Joel Hoffman belongs to a family of accomplished professional musicians that includes a brother, Gary, who is a cellist; another brother, Toby, a violist; and a sister, Deborah, who has held the position of principal harpist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Their mother, Esther Glazer, is a violinist who for many years was active as a concert performer and teacher in Chicago; and their father, Irwin Hoffman, has had a distinguished career as a conductor. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Joel Hoffman came to the United States at the age of eleven, when his father was appointed to the post of associate conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
After receiving his bachelor’s (B. Mus.) degree from the University of Wales, in Cardiff, Hoffman returned to the United States to study composition at The Juilliard School, where he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees. He has studied composition with Easley Blackwood in Chicago, and with Alun Hoddinott, Vincent Persichetti, Milton Babbitt, and Elliott Carter.
Hoffman is a professor of composition at the University of Cincinnati–College Conservatory of Music, where he is also the artistic director of an annual festival of new music. During the 1993–94 season he was composer-in-residence with the National Chamber Orchestra of Washington, D.C.—with whom he appeared as the pianist in his Self-Portrait with Mozart—prior to which he was new music advisor for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. He has been a resident composer at the Rockefeller, Hindemith, and Carmargo foundations, as well as at the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo.
In 1997 Hoffman’s Millennium Dances was premiered by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jésus López-Cobos, who later conducted the work at Carnegie Hall. His opera, The Memory Game, with a libretto by the Dutch novelist Henk Romijn Meijer, was first performed in 2003. Among his other works are Duo for Viola and Piano, recorded on CRI label; Partenze; Each for Himself; Music for Two Oboes; Five Pieces for Two Pianos; Music from Chartres, for ten brass instruments; a violin concerto; a Divertimento for string quartet, harp, and piano; and Tum Balalayke, a collection of Jewish folk arrangements, recorded by EMA Records in Italy.
Hoffman’s music has been performed by the Chicago Symphony Brass, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Columbus Symphony, the Cleveland Quartet, the Shanghai Quartet, the Orchestra Sinfonica of Bari (Italy), and many other ensembles. Commissions have come from the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, the Fromm Foundation, the Cincinnati Symphony, and the American Harp Society. And among his honors are a major prize from the American Academy-Institute of Arts and Letters, two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, three Ohio Arts Council fellowships, the Bearns Prize at Columbia University, a BMI award, sixteen ASCAP awards, three American Music Center grants, and two Juilliard composition prizes.
He is also an active pianist, having studied in Chicago with Mollie Margolies (for many years the “team teaching associate” of the legendary pianist and pedagogue Rudolph Ganz), Martin Jones, and Guido Agosti. He has appeared as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Belgian Radio and Television Philharmonic Orchestra, the Costa Rica National Symphony Orchestra, and the Florida Orchestra—among others; and he performs frequently in solo recitals and chamber music concerts.