The World is Watching...

Guest Conductor for Finals

Joel Smirnoff


photo © Peter Schaaf
Conductor, violinist, and eminent pedagogue Joel Smirnoff was named President of the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2008, where he holds the Mary Elizabeth Callahan President’s Chair. Encouraged by Seiji Ozawa to “take up the baton,” Mr. Smirnoff has developed into a highly acclaimed conductor with an impressive and wide-ranging repertoire. He is consistently cited for his high energy and special attention to the stylistic demands of each work.

In 2000, Mr. Smirnoff made his official American conducting debut with the San Francisco Symphony, conducting an all-Tchaikovsky program. Guest conducting engagements quickly followed with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Chicago Philharmonic, the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, the Phoenix Symphony, the Louisiana Symphony, the New World Symphony, the Amarillo Symphony, Juilliard Orchestra, Napa Valley Symphony, Hartford Symphony, and the Texas Music Festival Orchestra, among others. Abroad, Mr. Smirnoff has led the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, the Saito Kinen Orchestra, the Beijing Symphony, and a European tour with the Basel Sinfonietta.

As second-prize winner of the International American Music Competition for Violin in 1983 sponsored by Carnegie Hall and the Rockefeller, Mr. Smirnoff was awarded debuts at Carnegie Hall (Weill Recital Hall) on its Emerging Artists series and at Town Hall on its Midtown Masters series. He was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for six years.

Born into an eminent New York musical family, Mr. Smirnoff studied at the University of Chicago, then at The Juilliard School, where he later returned to teach. While he was Chair of Violin Studies at The Juilliard School, Smirnoff was the featured violin soloist at the Tanglewood Music Festival, performing the Berg Violin Concerto under the direction of Bernard Haitink in a concert dedicated to the memory of violinist Louis Krasner. Mr. Smirnoff also served as a faculty member and then Head of String Studies at the Tanglewood Music Center. He joined the Juilliard String Quartet in 1986 and performed on four continents with the group for 23 years as second violin until 1997, then as first violin until 2008, winning four Grammy Awards.

Mr. Smirnoff is a Sony recording artist and has solo recordings on GM, CRI, and Northeastern Records. In addition to numerous recordings by the Juilliard String Quartet, he recently conducted the Curtis Chamber Orchestra in a recording of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, Martin’s Ballade for Flute, the Griffes Poem for flute and orchestra, and Milhaud’s Le Boeuf sur le Toit, Op. 58. He also conducted Mark O’Connor’s American Symphony CD, as well as a CD of Elliott Carter’s music, and performed Platinum Spirals on a recording of Joan Tower’s compositions. Mr. Smirnoff has participated in the world premiere of numerous contemporary works, many of which were composed for him.

In 2011, Mr. Smirnoff received both the Lifetime Grammy Award for his recorded work with the Juilliard String Quartet and an Alumni Professional Achievement Award from the University of Chicago, his Alma Mater. He has served on the juries of both the Naumburg and the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.

A native of New York City, Joel Smirnoff also plays jazz, performing frequently as improvising soloist with Tony Bennett. His solos were featured on the Grammy award-winning CD Tony Bennett Sings Ellington Hot and Cool. He has also been guest soloist with Gunther Schuller and the American Jazz Orchestra, and the Billy Taylor Trio.