Joël 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 studies with Brian Ferneyhough. His music has been performed by the Asko Ensemble, Atlas Ensemble, Irvine Arditti, Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra, Nash Ensemble, Netherlands Wind Ensemble, Nieuw Ensemble, Radio Chamber Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and the Vancouver InterCultural Orchestra.
Joël Bons co-founded the Nieuw Ensemble, in which he played the guitar for ten years, becoming its artistic director subsequently. Joël Bons has been responsible for virtually all programming and led the renowned Nieuw Ensemble’s yearly composers practicum.
Joël Bons organized several festivals, worked as an artistic adviser for the Holland Festival, Gaudeamus, ISCM, Donemus, Rotterdam Arts Council and the Concertgebouw and served as jury member of international composition competitions.Together with film director Frank Scheffer he made a documentary on Boulez’ Eclat.
In 1988, Joël Bons traveled through China, where he became acquainted with a new generation of Chinese composers. Three years later 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 Prince Bernhard Fund Music Prize for their ‘markedly lively and adventurous programming which can be described as groundbreaking, both in the literal and figurative senses of the word’.
Joël Bons has done artistic research in the Near East and Central Asia from 2002 and founded a unique chamber orchestra called the Atlas Ensemble, 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. In the same year he was appointed lector at the Conservatorium Amsterdam, where he has organosed several intercultural projects such as Asian Winds & Strings, Focus Duduk and Orientations. Also he became teacher of the composition department. 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, a laboratory for the creation of intercultural music, which takes place in August at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.