Yuri Bashmet developed a highly successful international career as a violist, but then, like so many talented instrumentalists of his generation, branched out into conducting, even founding an orchestra. He has never abandoned the viola, managing to split his time in even portions between soloist and conductor, often appearing in both roles in the same concert. He has performed with the world's leading orchestras, including those in Moscow, Berlin, Paris, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and many other locales. He has also collaborated as soloist and conductor with some of the most celebrated string players of his time, including Rostropovich, Stern, Kremer, Mutter, and Mintz, as well as with keyboard legends like Richter and Argerich. For all his talent, Bashmet has been surrounded by controversy in the latter half of his career, owing to last-minute cancellations and sudden changes in concert programs. Yet he remains arguably the leading violist of his time and a powerful champion of contemporary music: indeed, a spate of major composers wrote works for him, including Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina, Giya Kancheli, Poul Ruders, John Taverner, and Mark-Anthony Turnage. Bashmet has made numerous recordings for a variety of mostly major labels, including Melodiya, DG, EMI, RCA, Sony, Onyx, and Toccata Classics.
Yuri Bashmet was born on January 24, 1953, in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. He studied piano, then violin in his childhood. At 14 he took up the viola while also dabbling in rock music as a guitarist. He studied viola at the Moscow Conservatory with Vadim Borisovsky and Fedor Druzhinin.
After a second-prize finish at the 1975 Budapest International Competition, he captured first prize the following year at the Munich ARD Competition. In the wake of his victory, Bashmet became an international star, despite initial sanctions against travel abroad by Soviet authorities.
Bashmet took up conducting in 1985 and the following year founded the Moscow Soloists, a chamber orchestra that quickly developed a wide following. In 1992 he re-founded the ensemble when the original members decided to set their base of operations in France. In 1996 Bashmet became a professor of music at Moscow Conservatory, where he had taught since 1978.
Bashmet was appointed music director and chief conductor of the Russian Symphony Orchestra ("New Russia") in 2002. Among Bashmet's recordings is the 2008 Onyx CD of short works for viola and piano by Marais, Benda, Rameau, Brahms, and Prokofiev.