Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?
I come from a family of professional musicians – I am the 3rd generation! My initial education and career was as a violinist, and during my higher education in Manchester I thought it would be interesting to learn to conduct alongside my studies. The conducting teachers at the Royal Northern College of Music were very generous with their time and enthusiasm, giving me many opportunities to study conducting and gain experience in front of an orchestra. Most importantly, they gave me the opportunity to participate in a masterclass with the great Russian pedagogue Ilya Musin, which was a life-changing moment for me and inspired me to continue my conducting studies with him in St Petersburg. After a number of years working as a violinist in Denmark (while travelling regularly to St Petersburg for my conducting studies), I finally made the big decision to change my career from violinist to conductor.
Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?
My family and the great violinist Franco Gulli, with whom I studied violin at Indiana University as a postgraduate student.
What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?
The most fulfilling aspects are the rehearsals and concerts. I live for those moments on stage when everything that we have worked on frees the music up and we transport ourselves and our audiences to another world. The journey to this moment involves dealing with many different and sometimes challenging situations; having to navigate bureaucracy, fundraising, politics, the list could carry on… In preparation for each concert, conductors have to deal with a mountain of non-musical work, and this is a big challenge for us all.
As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?
I try to convey as much as I can through my hands and eyes. When I need to focus on specific moments I tend to talk about colours and energy when discussing details such as dynamics and articulation. Most importantly, the ideas are rooted in the score. As it is not my composition, my responsibility is to the composer; to enable their music to be heard clearly and as intended.
How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?
I believe that the role of the conductor is multi-faceted. Fundamentally, we should inspire the musicians in front of us, building the trust with them so that they feel a freedom to express themselves and the music within the detailed boundaries that the composer has given us. It should be like chamber music, ensuring that there is communication between us. Ultimately, and with the risk of repeating myself, my role is to give the voice and focus to the composer.
Is there one work which you would love to conduct?
Mahler’s 2nd Symphony. I assisted Yuri Temirkanov on it years ago in Denmark but have not yet had the opportunity to conduct it myself. It’s a work that affects me deeply.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
Some favourites include the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam for its beautiful acoustic (but I am petrified of the famous stairs!), Royal Festival Hall as I grew up performing on the South Bank and also saw my family performing there many times, and the Big Hall of the St Petersburg Philharmonic for its sheer beauty and historic importance. Oh, and the Big Hall of the Moscow Conservatory! The atmosphere is just incredible.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
As many musicians would no doubt feel similarly, my favourite composers are the ones whose music I am working on at that moment. As for musicians, I have a broad taste of music and alongside violinists such as David Oistrakh and Franco Gulli, and conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Evgeny Mravinsky and Jiři Belohlavek, I also find the musicianship and performance/stagecraft of artists such as Rush, Randy Rhoades, Eddie Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Metallica and Queen inspirational.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Being invited to conduct prestigious orchestras and theatres around the world.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Never take anything for granted. Always remember that someone in our audience might be hearing the piece of music for the first time. Taking this a step further, always respect the intentions of the composer.
What is your present state of mind?
Tired – but happy! I have recently completed a two-week tour with a fantastic soloist (Dutch soprano Lenneke Ruiten). There was great communication between myself, the orchestra and the soloist, and the concerts were very enjoyable and satisfying.
London-born, Italian-based conductor Damian Iorio has been Music Director of the MKCO since 2014, and has heralded in a vibrant new age for the orchestra, gaining glowing accolades across the UK and further afield. In the 17/18 season, the MKCO welcome a raft of star soloists, including Stephen Hough and Chloe Hanslip.