Yuri Bashmet was born on January 24, 1953, in the Ukrainian 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
, and Prokofiev