Conductor, violinist, and pedagogue Joel Smirnoff, a native of New York City, served as President of the Cleveland Institute of Music from 2008 until 2016. As violinist, Mr. Smirnoff performed on four continents over 23 years as a member of the Juilliard String Quartet, joining as second violin in 1986 and replacing the legendary Robert Mann as first violin in 1997. In addition to his Grammy-nominated SONY disks with the Juilliard Quartet, Mr. Smirnoff also has an extensive catalog of solo recordings, including the world premiere recordings of numerous twentieth-century works by composers as diverse as Louis Gruenberg and Joan Tower.
In 1983, as second-prize winner of the International American Music Competition for Violin, Mr. Smirnoff was awarded debuts at Carnegie Hall on its Emerging Artists series and at Town Hall on its Midtown Masters series. Mr. Smirnoff was concerto soloist in the summer of 1998 at Tanglewood, performing the Berg Violin Concerto under the direction of Bernard Haitink in a special memorial concert dedicated to violinist Louis Krasner.
Encouraged by Seiji Ozawa to “take up the baton,” Mr. Smirnoff developed into a highly acclaimed conductor with an impressive and wide-ranging repertoire. Presented by Maestro Ozawa at the Bernstein Memorial Concert of 1998 at Tanglewood, Mr. Smirnoff made his official American conducting debut with the San Francisco Symphony in July, 2000, conducting an all-Tchaikovsky program. Engagements quickly followed with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Phoenix Symphony, the Louisiana Philharmonic, the Chicago Philharmonic, the New World Symphony, and others. In Europe, Mr. Smirnoff has led the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, Basel Sinfonietta, and the Kuopio (Finland) Symphony; in Japan, the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Matsumoto; in Korea, the Busan Festival Orchestra; and in China, the Beijing Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Smirnoff received the Lifetime Grammy Award in 2011 for his many recordings with the Juilliard String Quartet and was honored that same year with the Alumni Professional Achievement Award from the University of Chicago, his Alma Mater.
As music educator, Mr. Smirnoff has served on the chamber music faculty of the Juilliard School since 1986 and on the violin faculty since 1989, serving as Chair of the Violin Faculty from 1992 until 2008. A long-time faculty member of the Tanglewood Music Festival, Mr. Smirnoff was conducting assistant to Maestro Seiji Ozawa and Head of String Studies from 1995 to 2000. Mr. Smirnoff has served on the juries of the Naumburg, Seoul, Bartok, Indianapolis, and Sendai Violin Competitions.
Mr. Smirnoff also plays jazz and has appeared frequently as improvising violinist with the great jazz singer Tony Bennett in concert and on TV. His improvised solo on “Fly Me to the Moon” can be seen on Tony Bennett Live by Request, and two improvised jazz solos can be heard 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.
Mr. Smirnoff was born into an eminent New York musical family. His mother sang with the Jack Teagarden Band under the stage name of Judy Marshall, and his father, Zelly Smirnoff, played in the NBC
Symphony under Toscanini, performed with the Bach Aria Group, and was second violinist of the Stuyvesant String Quartet.
Manhattan School of Music Precollege Faculty since 2021.