Born in Athens into a musical family, Kavakos began studying violin at five years old and continued his studies at the Hellenic Conservatory with Stelios Kafantaris. An Onassis Foundation scholarship enabled him to attend master classes with Josef Gingold at Indiana University. He made his concert debut at the Athens Festival in 1984. In 1985, at age 18 (the youngest contestant), he won the International Sibelius Competition in Helsinki and in 1986 won silver medal in the Indianapolis International Violin Competition. He also took first prizes at the Naumburg Competition in New York (1988) and the Paganini Violin Competition (1988)--all by the age of 21. His United States debut was in 1986, and, the following year, he gave recitals at venues across the country. Kavakos now tours North America annually and works with numerous major orchestras, including the Chicago, and Montreal Symphony Orchestras. In Europe, following his competition win in Helsinki, Kavakos' reputation spread quickly. He now works extensively in major concert halls across the continent, working with world class orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic. He has appeared at festivals such as the Verbier Festival, Salzburg Festival, where he first appeared in 1994, the Lucerne Festival, and the Stars of White Nights Festival. He has appeared throughout the UK with numerous orchestras, starting in 1992 performing the Stravinsky concerto at the London Proms. Kavakos made a highly successful Japanese debut in 1988 including a recital at Tokyo's Casals Hall and has since toured Japan with the English Chamber Orchestra and given concerts with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and the New Japan Philharmonic. He was called "The Violinist of Violinists" by the Strad Magazine.