Conductor/Pianist Francesco Milioto

As a six year old, Francesco Milioto remembers walking into his bedroom,

finding his desk moved, and seeing an upright piano where none had stood before. "It was not something I had asked for. But my father had decided I would take lessons" -- and as it turned out, from someone who'd never given lessons before.

The gambles of such hopeful parents often end in failure or a child's disinterest. But in Milioto's case, it definitely resulted in huge win. Growing up Toronto, he studied his craft extensively at the Royal Conservatory, University of Western Ontario (where hearted a top scholarship in piano performance) and McGill University -- guided by his first teacher, Victor Plenter.

Today, Milioto serves as Music Director of the Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestra, and has many impressive collaborations and career achievements to his credit. The child of Sicilian parents, both from Cattolica Eraclea, Milioto has conducted, coached and performed on piano in the Chicago area for more than 10 years -- appearing everywhere from Symphony Center to the Pritzker Pavilion and Ravinia.

Milioto's next performance with Skokie Valley takes place Feb. 15. "Music and the Spoken Word" will mark Richard Strauss' 150th Anniversary. It will also feature an edgy treat: a performance of Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," accented by play passages acted by The Back Room Shakespeare Project.

Milioto is also the co-founder and conductor of the New Millennium Orchestra, which boasts a repertoire ranging from traditional and contemporary classical masterworks to genre-bending forays into live remixes, improvisations, world music and collaborations with jazz and hip-hop artists. Time Out Chicago has hailed NMO as "one of the best additions to the city's scene."

Creativity runs in the family, too. Milioto's father played drums and sings in a choir and at Italian events. His wife Joanie Schultz, a Chicago area stage director, is working at the Victory Gardens Theatre through 2016 on a Reginald Denham Fellowship through the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation.

Meanwhile, Milioto remains steeped in his family's roots. He speaks fluent Italian, learning the Sicilian dialect as a child. "All of the people surrounding me were Sicilian speakers, all from the same town, so I had to learn it. I really appreciate that I have that and I know that."

His musical approach reflects the passion of his lineage. "For me, the thing that I most feel most strongly about as a conductor and pianist is the collaborative process. I'm happiest on the podium creating a piece of music with the players that I know best, and with the integrity of representing the composer well. That collaboration really warms my heart and makes me want to do my best."

In summing up his special, superlative philosophy of music making, Milioto expresses it thus: "Notes printed on a page are not music. The original composers just wanted their music to be represented well. Music is what we make of that: to represent the composer with a high level of integrity. It's a gift and a special thing to do, and I realize that. I'm so appreciative."

The Skokie Valley Symphony performs "Music and the Spoken Word," 3 p.m. Feb. 15 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd. in Skokie. Tickets are $5-$44. For more information, email info@svso.org, phone 847-679-9501 x3014 or visit svso.org.