Joël Bons was born in Amsterdam and studied guitar at the Sweelinck Conservatory and composition with Robert Heppener. He attended the summer courses of Franco Donatoni in Siena and the Darmstädter Ferienkurse für Neue Musik. In 1982 he continued his composition studies with Brian Ferneyhough in Freiburg. Bons' music has been performed by the Asko Ensemble, Atlas Ensemble, Calefax, Nederlands Blazers Ensemble, Nieuw Ensemble, Schönberg Ensemble, Irvine Arditti, Capricorn, Ex-Novo Ensemble, Radio Kamerorkest, Limburgs Symfonieorkest, Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest, Residentie Orkest, Score Collective, Vancouver InterCultural Orchestra, Little Giant Chamber Orchestra, Guangxi Symphony Orchestra.
Joël Bons was co-founder and artistic director of the Nieuw Ensemble, founded in 1980. In 1988, he travelled through China, where he got acquainted with a generation of young composers who later, through the Nieuw Ensemble, created a furore in the West.
In 1998, Bons and the Nieuw Ensemble were awarded the Prins Bernhard Fonds Muziekprijs for their 'distinctly adventurous and playful programming'.
In 2002, Bons made study trips to the Middle East and Central Asia. In that same year, he founded the Atlas Ensemble, a unique chamber orchestra that unites musicians from China, Central Asia, the Near East and Europe. In 2005, he was awarded the Amsterdam Prize for the Arts for this. In that same year, Bons became a lecturer at the Amsterdam Conservatory and subsequently a composition teacher. In 2009, he initiated the Atlas Academy/Atlas Lab, a creative sanctuary for intercultural music. The Atlas Ensemble produced documentaries on the Atlas Academy Why Atlas? > and Imagine Utopia > and many demonstration videos of instruments from the Middle East and Asia. Bons gives masterclasses, composition workshops and lectures all over the world.
In 2010, the Atlas Ensemble premiered Bons' Cadenzas, followed in 2011 by Green Dragon with the Vancouver InterCultural Orchestra. In December 2012 the Nieuw Ensemble, conducted by Ed Spanjaard, devoted a programme to Bons' work entitled De Ark van Joël, which received favourable reviews (5 stars in de Volkskrant >, 4 stars in NRC > and Parool >). The Atlas Ensemble performed his work at the Musica Nova Festival in Helsinki in 2013. Summer Dance for clarinet and piano and Omwentelingen (commissioned Cello Biennale Amsterdam) premiered at Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ in 2014.
In October 2016, the large-scale Nomads was a highlight at three festivals - the Cello Biennale, November Music in Den Bosch and Soundsofmusic in Groningen. The piece was written for and performed by the world-renowned cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and the Atlas Ensemble and received high praise from audience and press. Nomads was released on CD by the Swedish label BIS and was rerun in Arnhem, Antwerp and Amsterdam in 2018 and in Venice (Biennale), Utrecht and Rotterdam in 2019. In the same year, Nomads won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, also known as the 'Nobel Prize for Music'.
At the ASEAN Music Week in Nanning China, the premiere of Spring for Orchestra sounded in 2017. In March 2018, a new large-scale work saw the light of day in Amsterdam with great success: Thirty Situations, written for the Nieuw Ensemble. In 2019, Mokum for Score Collective and Blaasbalg for the Cello Festival Zutphen followed. Commissioned by Calefax, Bons wrote Six Scenes in 2020-21, which will have its premiere at November Music in 2022. He recently completed Bounce for the Ruysdael Quartet and Trailbazer for cellist Lidy Blijdorp and chamber orchestra, commissioned by the Residentie Orkest.