Born in Iwaki, Fukushima, Kobayashi's father was a high school teacher, mother was a primary school teacher. Kobayashi started composing music at the age of 11. He attended the Tokyo University of the Arts, where he studied composition and conducting under Mareo Ishiketa (composition), Kazuo Yamada (conducting), and Akeo Watanabe (conducting).
Kobayashi had won the 1st prize and the special award at the International Conductors Competition on Hungarian television in 1974. He has led orchestras in Germany, Austria, Britain, and Netherlands. Kobayashi has been resident conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and of the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra. With the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, he served as principal conductor (1988–1990), chief conductor (1990–1994, 1997–2004), and music director (2004–2007). Kobayashi has served as principal guest conductor of the Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra and the Kyusyu Symphony Orchestra. With the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra, he was general music director from 1998 to 2001, music director from 2001 to 2003, is serving the conductor laureate since 2003. Kobayashi was appointed to the special guest conductor of Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in August 2011, appointed to the music director of Tokyo Bunka Kaikan in June 2012, is currently serving the position since 1 July 2012.
In Europe, Kobayashi served as principal conductor of the Hungarian State Symphony (now the Hungarian National Philharmonic) from 1987 to 1997, and is now conductor laureate of the orchestra. Kobayashi was the first Asian conductor to conduct the Czech Philharmonic at the Prague Spring International Music Festival, in 2002. He has since held a regular guest conductorship with the Czech Philharmonic. He was one of three conductors who primarily led the orchestra after the sudden resignation of Gerd Albrecht from the chief conductorship orchestra in 1996 and before the advent of Vladimir Ashkenazy in 1998. In 2006, he became vaste dirigent ('permanent conductor') of Het Gelders Orkest of Arnhem, Netherlands.
Kobayashi has taught at the Tokyo University of the Arts, where he now holds an emeritus professorship. He is currently a visiting professor of Tokyo College of Music. His compositions include his Passacaglia for orchestra, in honour of the 400th anniversary of relations between Japan and the Netherlands in the year 2000. Kobayashi directed the premiere with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra in 1999.
Kobayashi's daughter Ayano Kobayashi is a pianist. His sister, Yuko Ichinose, is a soprano.
Kobayashi received the Liszt Memorial Decoration (1986), the Hungarian Order of Culture (1990), and the Middle Cross with the Star of the Order of the Republic of Hungary decoration (the highest civilian honour) from the Hungarian government in 1994.
- James R. Oestreich (26 March 2000). "A Great Orchestra Dancing Past the Graveyard". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi.|
- Dutch-language biography of Kobayashi
- Budapest Spring Festival 2007, "Kodály evening with the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir"
|Principal Conductor, Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra
Taijiro Iimori (permanent conductor)
|General Music Director and Music Director, Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra
1998–2001 (General Music Director), 2001–2003 (Music Director)
Ryusuke Numajiri (chief conductor)