Passionate about outreach: Damian Iorio
Q&A: Damian Iorio8:00, 19th January 2018
The conductor talks to Katy Wright about his work as music director of the Milton Keynes City Orchestra and the National Youth String Orchestra
How has the the Milton Keynes City Orchestra changed during your tenure?
When I joined as music director, the orchestra was having a lot of problems. We’ve had to rethink the economic model, sponsorship, how we fundraise, programming – everything, really. It’s not all my work, of course! There are some fantastic musicians in the orchestra and a great audience; you just have to get the word out and build a relationship with them, and that takes time. It’s not London – there isn’t the same volume of concerts, so people do want to hear a lot of standard repertoire, because they wouldn’t hear it otherwise. At the same time, you have to challenge them. I try to do programmes which are attractive, but give them something more, too.
Tell me about the orchestra’s Music for Life initiative.
Education outreach is important for all artistic organisations. Taking any sort of art form to all parts of society is of great importance. Although we’re a small orchestra without a big budget, we’re trying to give as much to society as possible. We’re trying to bring projects both small and large to the local community, including schools, the elderly, hospitals, the disabled. We’re trying hard to develop this network and to show the beauty and importance of music on all levels. That sounds idealistic, but that’s me.
One of our big projects this year was a side-by-side with a local youth orchestra, and they’re playing with the professional orchestra on stage. We do some preparatory work too, some sectionals, and I’ll take a rehearsal with them. We’ve been doing this for a number of years, and the results have been great. For the kids in the orchestra, it’s an experience they don’t forget. We also do smaller projects, when two or three players go in and work in local schools, and we’ve been going to places like MK Snap, which is a home for people with serious disabilities. We do music therapy sessions there; it’s had a phenomenal impact and the feedback has been very moving.
We’re now planning more projects, both small and large. We’re not a big organisation, but we have a lot of will and talent, and we’re trying to get funding to do larger, more integrated projects. We want to have more flexibility in size; it’d be nice to do things with larger groups of musicians, perhaps even the whole orchestra. We have some great musicians who do these things and we’re trying to keep a very open mind about what’s possible. It’s not possible without funding, though.
Why is outreach work so important to you?
I was part of an Inner London Education Authority music service when I was a child. The whole idea that any child should be able to learn an instrument existed here. I was involved in the ILEA courses, going back to the concert orchestra, to the London Schools Symphony Orchestra. I was also involved in the Centre for Youth Music a little bit. If it wasn’t for those things, the education alongside my violin lessons, I probably wouldn’t be here today.
I now run the National Youth String Orchestra, which is on a par with the National Youth Orchestra. We work very hard, but the results are exceptional. I see the enthusiasm of the young musicians and what it gives them. It’s like watering a plant – you really see the children grow. I love it.
What are your goals for the MKCO over the next few years?
I want to develop the education outreach programme, keep bringing great soloists in, and take the orchestra out of the city and into the surrounding region a bit more. It’s in an area which is underserved, and I think there is a lot of people who are interested in hearing great music.