Joël Bons was born in Amsterdam. He became acquainted with music from all over the world already in early childhood, through the unique record collection of his parents. His teenage years however were steeped in the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and later Stravinsky.

Bons studied guitar and composition at the Sweelinck Conservatory with Robert Heppener and attended the summer courses of Franco Donatoni in Siena and the Darmstädter Ferienkurse für Neue Musik. In Freiburg he continued his composition studies with Brian Ferneyhough.

His music has been performed by a.o. Asko Ensemble, Atlas Ensemble, Irvine Arditti, Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra, Calefax, Nash Ensemble, Ives Ensemble, Netherlands Wind Ensemble, Nieuw Ensemble, Score Collective, Radio Chamber Orchestra, Residentie Orchestra. Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Guangxi Symphony Orchestra and the Vancouver InterCultural Orchestra.

Nieuw Ensemble
Joël Bons co-founded the Nieuw Ensemble in 1980. For ten years he played the guitar in the ensemble. As its artistic director he has been responsible for virtually all programming and led the renowned Nieuw Ensemble’s composers practicum. Bons organized festivals such as Complexity? (1990), Rules and Games (1995), Improvisations, improvisations! (1996), the intercultural Festival of Plucked Instruments (1998), The Refined Ear (on microtonality, 2002) and Open Music (2006). He supervised cd recordings of the Nieuw Ensemble and violinist Irvine Arditti; together with film director Frank Scheffer he made a documentary on Pierre Boulez’ Eclat

In 1988 Bons traveled through China where he became acquainted with a new generation of Chinese composers. In 1991 the Nieuw Ensemble presented these remarkable talents to western audiences, which marked the international breakthrough of new Chinese music.
In 1998 Joël Bons and the Nieuw Ensemble were awarded the Culture Fund Prize for their ‘markedly lively and adventurous programming which can be described as groundbreaking, both in the literal and figurative senses of the word’.

Bons worked as advisor for Gaudeamus, ISCM, Donemus, Rotterdam Arts Council and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, was one of the founders of the series Proms in Paradiso and a driving force behind the Year of the Ensembles. For the Holland Festival he programmed a concertseries of New Italian music.

Atlas Ensemble
In 2002 Bons did artistic research in the Middle East and Central Asia and founded the Atlas Ensemble, a unique chamber orchestra uniting musicians from Asia and Europe. The Atlas Ensemble debuted in 2002 at the Berliner Festspiele and was ensemble in residence at the Holland Festival 2004. For his work with the Atlas Ensemble Joël Bons was granted the prestigious Amsterdam Prize for the Arts 2005. The same year he was appointed lector at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, where he organized intercultural projects such as Asian Winds & StringsFocus Duduk and Orientations; subsequently he became professor of the composition department. In 2006 Tour à Tour, written for the Atlas Ensemble, was premiered. 

Atlas Academy/Lab
At the request of the Festival d’Automne à Paris Joël Bons was curator of the music programme of ‘Scène artistique du Moyen-Orient’, for which he traveled to Damascus and Tehran in the spring of 2007. In 2009 he founded the Atlas Academy/Lab, a laboratory for the creation of intercultural music, which took place at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. As a result Atlas Festivals were presented in 2012 and 2014 with success in and around the Amsterdam Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ. The Atlas Ensemble released demonstration video's of the Middle Eastern and Asian instruments and documentaries Why Atlas? and Imagine Utopia

Compositions since 2010
The Atlas Ensemble premiered Bons' Cadenzas in 2010 and in 2011 the Vancouver InterCultural Orchestra commissioned Green Dragonwhich was performed in Vancouver, Taiwan, Shanghai and Amsterdam. In 2012 the Nieuw Ensemble performed a programme of Bons’ works (TourBref, First Edition among others) entitled The Ark of Joël, which received excellent reviews (5 stars in the daily Volkskrant >, 4 stars in NRC > and Het Parool >).
In February 2013 the Atlas Ensemble was ensemble in residence at the Musica Nova Festival in Helsinki, presenting two of Bons’ compositions. Early 2014 Summer Dance for clarinet and piano was premiered at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ in Amsterdam; in the autumn of the same year followed Revolutions at the Cello Biennale.

In the fall of 2016 the premiere of the large scale Nomaden was a highlight at three festivals – Cello Biennale Amsterdam, November Music and Soundsofmusic. The work was written for and performed by world renowned cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and the Atlas Ensemble conducted by Ed Spanjaard and received the highest critical acclaim. With Nomaden Joël Bons won the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition 2019. The Award is often referred to as the ‘Nobel Prize of music’. The New York Times

Recent commissions
In 2017 Spring for Orchestra was premiered at the ASEAN Music Week in Nanning, China. In March 2018 Thirty Situations – a new large scale work for the Nieuw Ensemble, soprano, trombone, jazz drums, electric guitar and electronics – was met with great success. Recent commissions include Mokum for Score Collective (2019), 6 Scenes for Calefax (2020), Blaasbalg for Cello Festival Zutphen, Trailblazer (2021-22) for Lidy Blijdorp and the Residentie Orkest and Bounce (2022) for the Ruysdael Quartet. Commissioned by Oranjewoud Festival the Atlas Ensemble premiered Bons' 283 Strings (2022-23) in May 2023.


Joël Bons
photo: Kadir van Lohuizen