Damian Iorio and the NYSO

My relationship with the National Youth String Orchestra (NYSO) began 10 years ago, after its founder, Viviane Ronchetti, asked me to conduct a concert. NYSO is a specialist string orchestra and she felt it was very important to have a conductor who was also a string player. When Viviane stepped down in 2012, I was asked to take over as Music Director. I am very proud of what we achieve each year. We perform only one programme each year, preparing the music over two courses that take place at Easter and Summer, before a public concert performance. This gives the young musicians time to learn the repertoire in detail and depth, and removes the pressure of having to perform before they are ready.

A large part of my mission over these seven years as Music Director has been to visit as many different parts of the UK as possible, to display our hard work and to reach as wide and diverse an audience. In previous years, these destinations have included Harrogate, Cirencester, Hull, Cambridge, Gateshead and Aberdeen. We even travelled to Denmark for the Senior Course tour in 2015, giving the musicians a taste of what’s to come if they decide to become professional musicians in the future. My hope is that by providing NYSO with a larger platform and national presence, other young people will see what we do and find inspiration in their own musicality. Ultimately I hope that we can encourage a wider and more diverse pool of young string players to apply to NYSO each year.

It’s naïve to suggest that every child has equal access to music education, and finances can be a large barrier for many young musicians. Part of our audition policy at NYSO is that education and financial status should never be an obstacle to exceptional young performers who audition, and we offer bursaries to those in genuine need. Most importantly, what I’m ultimately looking for are the most promising young performers regardless of their background. My decision is made purely on the quality of the string player standing in front of me at the time of audition.

As leaders in the music industry, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels and just complain about the lack of diversity in classical music – we have to take steps to remedy it. Unfortunately, the NYSO doesn’t have the financial capacity to make much of an impact upon what is a much wider societal issue with regards to music education, but I hope that in our small way we open up music training to the best and most promising young players who go on to be the stars of the future.

Damian Iorio is an international conductor of opera and orchestral music, and is Music Director of NYSO and the Milton Keynes City Orchestra. His next MKCO concert is on 2 November 2018 and features violinist Yoon-Hee Kim.