Conductor, violinist and eminent pedagogue Joel Smirnoff, a native of New York City, joined the Cleveland Institute of Music as president in 2008 and holds the Mary Elizabeth Callahan President's Chair. A long-time member of the Juilliard String Quartet, Mr. Smirnoff joined the ensemble in 1986 and performed on four continents with the group for 23 years, as second violin until 1997, then as first violin until 2008.
Encouraged by Seiji Ozawa to “take up the baton,” Mr. Smirnoff developed into a highly acclaimed conductor with an impressive and wide-ranging repertoire. In the summer of 2000, Mr. Smirnoff made his official American conducting debut with the San Francisco Symphony, conducting an all-Tchaikovsky program. Engagements quickly followed with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Phoenix Symphony, the Louisiana Symphony, the Chicago Philharmonic and the New World Symphony, among others. In Europe, Mr. Smirnoff has led the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and the Basel Sinfonietta in a European tour with Charles Rosen as soloist in the Elliott Carter Piano Concerto.
Mr. Smirnoff was the second-prize winner of the International American Music Competition for Violin in 1983 sponsored by Carnegie Hall and the Rockefeller Foundation and subsequently was awarded debuts at Carnegie Hall on its Emerging Artists series and at Town Hall on its Midtown Masters series.
In the summer of 1997, Mr. Smirnoff was featured soloist at Tanglewood in a concert dedicated to the memory of the violinist Louis Krasner, performing the Berg Violin Concerto, conducted by Bernard Haitink.
2011 brought Mr. Smirnoff 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. Mr. Smirnoff has served more than once on both the juries of the Naumburg and Indianapolis Violin Competitions.
Mr. Smirnoff also plays jazz. 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.
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 and was second violinist of the Stuyvesant String Quartet. Mr. Smirnoff is married to the eminent concert violinist Joan Kwuon.
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