Kees Bakels was born in Amsterdam beginning his musical career as a violinist. He studied conducting at the Amsterdam Conservatory and at the Academy Chigiana in Siena. During his studies he became assistant conductor of the Amsterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and subsequently held the position of associate conductor with the orchestra. At the same time he became principal guest conductor of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra which he has directed in festivals in Finland, Belgium and Spain. Kees Bakels has conducted all the major Dutch orchestras, as well as orchestras in Europe and Russia. He has also directed many concerts with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and in 1985 conducted his first London Promenade concert with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. From the beginning of his career, Kees Bakels has concentrated as much on opera as on the symphonic repertoire and has conducted English National Opera productions of Aida and Fidelio and productions by the Welsh National Opera of La Bohème and Die Zauberflöte. He has also specialised in the performance of lesser-known operas by Mascagni and Leoncavallo and earlier works by Verdi in the concert hall, broadcasting studio and opera house. He became principal guest conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in September 1988. In 1998 he was appointed music director of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, with an inaugural concert under his direction in August 1998 in the new Petronas Hall in Kuala Lumpur.