Yasuo Watanabe was born in 1949, in Tokyo, into a musical and artistic family. His father, Akeo, was a renowned conductor and a member of the Japan Academy of Arts as well as the Founder and Musical Director of the Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. His mother, a painter, was the daughter of Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama, the first leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan.

Yasuo attended a high school affiliated with The Tokyo University of Arts and Music, majoring in composition. After graduating, he entered the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and studied with Russell Sherman and Theodore Lettvin. He received his Bachelor of Music there in 1971 and the Artist’s Diploma in Piano in 1973. He then went to Juilliard School in New York and got his Master’s Degree in Piano in 1975, studying with Sascha Gorodnitzki.

He launched his notable career as a concert pianist in 1972 in Tokyo, with a debut performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat major under his father’s baton. He has since been invited to perform with numerous orchestras, including the NHK Symphony Orchestra, the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, and the Yomiuri Nihon Symphony Orchestra.

He has been invited as soloist in subscription concerts of the Helsinki Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Turk Symphony Orchestra of Finland, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra, the Gunma Symphony Orchestra, the Kyushu Symphony Orchestra, the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra, the Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, the Sendai Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, the Nagoya Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa, and the Kanagawa Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra.

Yasuo has collaborated with many prominent conductors, among whom are Dmitri Kitaenko, Hiroyuki Iwaki, Kenichiro Kobayashi, Michiyoshi Inoue, Tadaaki Odaka, Okko Kamu, Lukács Ervin, Takashi Asahina, Zdeněk Košler, Sergiu Comissiona, Kazuyoshi Akiyama, Hiroshi Wakasugi, Jyunichi Hirokami, Kazuo Yamada, and Ken Takaseki.

He has about 40 piano concertos in his repertory, including all five Beethoven Concertos, both Ravel Concertos, as well as concertos of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Grieg, Bernstein, Stravinsky, Prokofieff, and Yashiro. He has conducted ten of the Mozart concertos from the keyboard.

His recital activities include world premieres of new works by many famous composers, and collaborations in chamber music with world-renowned performers including Lynn Harrell, with whom he has performed many times. He has also performed at the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival.

He began orchestral conducting in 1992, and in 2007, he lead the Kyushu Symphony Orchestra in the Deryck Cooke Edition of Mahler Symphony No. 10 to great acclaim on the final day of the 7th Tsuyama International All-Round Music Festival 2007, where he served as Music Director.

He was the Dean and Professor of Piano at the Kurashiki Sakuyo University in Okayama Prefecture until March, 2015. Since his retirement, he serves as a Lecturer of Toho Gakuen School of Music.