The gift of a cello when he was five may have had more effect on Ignacio Barrón Viela than his parents intended. As one of the few people who wears a big warm overcoat on a mild winter day in Montana, Barrón Viela might stand out in a crowd. He certainly stood out to the Board members of the Billings Symphony Orchestra and Chorale when they were interviewing for a new Executive Director. Barrón Viela has been the Executive Director of Billings Symphony and Orchestra for over two years and is excited and passionate to continue engaging the community in his career of music management.
Performing arts management in Montana is not where Barrón Viela started, however. First, it was Spain, with a master’s in industrial engineering from the University of Zaragoza. Then, he spent seven years as a senior management consultant and project manager for two energy companies -- two of the largest private investor-owned energy companies in the world. His work there spanned from offshore wind power plants to traditional fossil fuel energy sites.
While working in Dusseldorf, Germany as an engineer, Barrón Viela formed part of the Heinrich Heine Orchestra and helped them manage European tours. Desiring additional business education, Barrón Viela then traveled to America to take his MBA from USC Marshall School of Business with an emphasis in arts leadership through the USC Thornton School of Music.
His extensive business management and orchestra experience, taken with his professionalism and enthusiasm, was enough to convince the Billings Symphony Board that this was the guy they needed. Since being with Billings Symphony, Barrón Viela has successfully navigated and routinely sold out performances while transitioning between three different venues in two years. The current Billings Symphony concert hall is Lockwood High School’s brand new, 200-million-dollar auditorium, located five miles out of town.
Over the last twelve months, the Billings Symphony has increased its national presence with five different mentions in national outlets and was selected by the the Steering Committee of New Music for America, a national consortium commissioning program, to premiere high end national composer Jennifer Higdon during 2022.
Barrón Viela is proud that despite national employment drags the Billings Symphony has been able to maintain its team and hire two new full-time staff members. The coronavirus has initiated a change that Barrón Viela has long been pushing but regrets not being more proactive about: live streaming. “If this pandemic hadn’t happened,” he says, “we wouldn’t be where we are today, in a good way.”
Barrón Viela says one the biggest challenges he has found is “to keep growing and to restore the connection with the audience.” “Sports and entertainment are the most affected by what’s happening, [we need] to stay strong and restore our connection.” The Billings Symphony used to entertain around 1,400 people per live concert but since the 2020-2021 season started, they moved from a total live capacity of 200 people per concert to only livestream events, with around 1,500 attendees per performance.
The Billings Symphony is more than concert hall performances, however. Its “work and mission is beyond the theatre,” Barrón Viela says. The Billing Symphony seeks to heal through music and not merely entertain. From nursing homes to hospitals to prisons, the Billings Symphony has over 120 various community engagement programs, bringing music to people who need healing. In the Montana Women's Prison, many, if not most, of the women incarcerated are imprisoned for committing petty crimes. Those who learn how to play guitar have a lower recidivism rate than those who do not. Barrón Viela believes in the healing power of music, and through the Billings Symphony’s outreach he is able to live out this dream to provide music to people in need. Barrón
There is an element of Montana heart that Barrón Viela finds noteworthy - this desire to help the community. To Barrón Viela, what makes Montanans unique in the world is “their genuine, sincere welcoming.” Having been to 45 countries, lived in four of them, and resided in 15 different cities, his impression of Montana was decided when the people considered him friends without knowing him. After he was hired as the Executive Director and upon the Board discovering that he was new to the state, Board members had him over to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.
He remembers how, one day, he got his car stuck in the snow in temperatures below freezing and this stranger pulled off the road and hopped out. Flips flops hit the snow and the man’s shorts amazed Barrón Viela. The stranger set to work quickly and in no time the car was back on the road, with the stranger trudging back through the snow to his car in his flip flops and shorts.
Adjustment to winter was certainly one of the challenges Barrón Viela faced upon moving to Montana. Another, he says, was learning how to “to keep his roots and culture intact, to incorporate his identity into his new lifestyle,” especially with different ethnic calendars. Having married a Montana woman, Barrón Viela feels like he has been adopted by a Montana family, although he has yet to purchase the cowboy boots and hat. When he is not in the kitchen cooking tapas with his wife, you might find him at at Bin 119 , one of his favorite local businesses.