It was the power of music, Ignacio Barrón Viela contends, that caused him to pivot 180 from a successful career in engineering to the somewhat less-profitable world of orchestra management.
The Florida Orchestra’s new president and CEO wouldn’t change a thing.
“I grew up in a family where my grandmother sang opera, and my father played a number of instruments,” says Barrón Viela, a native of Zazagoza, Spain. “I grew up with music playing. When I was 5 years old, I was gifted the cello. That instrument transformed my life.”
Still, ”When I grew up, I had to make a decision about my studies.” In other words, get a real job.
“I love science,” he says. “I love numbers.” So he went to the local university and earned a Master of Industrial Engineering degree – and spent the next seven years as a senior management consultant and project manager for two of the largest private investor-owned energy companies on the planet.
“I played in orchestras part time during that period … but I missed music so much,” Barrón Viela confesses. “Music is really my passion.” He was pretty sure a career as a professional cellist was beyond his grasp, “so I started to think about ways to make the transition to music, as an engineer.” Where he could combine his love for music with his unique skills as a problem-solver.
Ignacio Barrón Viela emigrated to the United States in 2017; he received an MBA from the USC Marshall School of Business with an emphasis in arts leadership through the USC Thornton School of Music.
“I discovered that the League of American Orchestras has a wonderful program called ‘Essentials of Orchestra Management.’ I did that program and I fell in love with it. People encouraged me to apply for orchestras, and bring that experience that I had in the corporate world, in the engineering world – with a more artistic background.”
In Montana, he was Executive Director of the Billings Symphony from 2018 through 2022, then President and CEO of the Reno (Nevada) Philharmonic.
“I kind of found the perfect niche with orchestra management,” he says. “So I’m really, really happy – I get to hang out with incredible artists but also look at budgets, and finance and proceeds, and put all the pieces together. So I feel tremendously happy and lucky that I get to do what I do.”
When Florida Orchestra CEO Mark Cantrell announced his departure earlier this year, and the job posting went national, Barrón Viela threw his hat into the ring.
“From our first meeting, it was clear that Ignacio has a genuine passion for music, a strategic mindset, and a charismatic ability to communicate deeply about our wonderful art form,” TFO musical director Michael Francis said in a prepared statement when Barrón Viela’s hire was announced earlier this week.
He’ll start the new gig in August – right around the time the baton drops on the orchestra’s 56th season.
Barrón Viela shares Francis’ view that a community’s orchestra must not only enlighten and entertain the public, its leaders must listen to – and hear – what the people want. What the people expect.
To run an orchestra in today’s climate, he says, it’s important to understand “the relevant social issues that are happening around us. And how music can actually uplift the way we live.
“I see music as an incredible transformative platform to enable a better world. Putting that into practice requires empathy, understanding, connection with the community … also, being realistic, the nuts and bolts of an orchestra are not easy.”
Between musicians, management, marketing and a thousand other things, “there’s a lot of work behind the scenes to put a concert together. And we have to think about the experiences we create before, during and after the concert, and how that relates with the funding mechanism.”
Fundraising, of course, is an enormous part of any nonprofit organization’s work. Approximately 40 percent of The Florida Orchestra’s budget comes from ticket sales; the rest, from philanthropy.
“It’s a fundamental component for orchestra to thrive, and to survive,” Barrón Viela explains. “We need community support. And people like to support if they see there is excitement, activity, momentum.
“So I think the role of an orchestra leader is really to advocate and communicate the best we can the mission of the organization, so we can get more support.”
In the meantime, there’s champagne to be uncorked. “My wife and I are delighted to live in that area, where there is so much momentum,” he enthuses. “I am very excited, personally and professionally.
“I felt very welcomed by everyone I met throughout the process, and I can’t wait to move there and start working with the team – to start a new chapter for the orchestra.”