‘I had never been to New Zealand before taking a job here. Now it is home’

Ronan Tighe on how he came to be responsible for artistic planning with an orchestra in Auckland

Working Abroad Q&A: Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, Ronan Tighe on being director of artistic planning at the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

When did you leave Ireland?

I left Ireland at the end of 1999. I was still in my twenties and keen to progress my career in the music business and to have an overseas adventure.

Did you head to New Zealand immediately?

I had eight years in London before I accepted a job in Auckland and I’ve been here for close to eight years now.

What took you there?

I had been working as a manager for international orchestra conductors and instrumentalists, at a large classical music agency in London for six years. I loved living in London, but I was keen to work with an orchestra as an artistic administrator and so started looking around for the right opportunity. The job came up in Auckland and I went for it. I’d never harboured any great plans to live in this part of the world, or even visited, prior to getting the job, but it has been great living and working here.


What do you do there?

I’m the director of artistic planning at the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. It’s the largest city based, full-time professional orchestra in New Zealand, serving the country’s largest city and we have performances right across the year. My job is to plan the concerts we perform, including choosing the music we play and the conductors and soloists we perform with. It’s a wonderful job and a terrific organisation to work for.

What career path did you follow to arrive at your current position?

I studied music through school and third level including at the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama and at Maynooth University. After studying arts administration at UCD, I moved to London to pursue a career there. Two years working at the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company was followed by six years at IMG Artists where I managed the careers of some great musicians.

How did you get started in your current job?

My time as an agent in London meant that I had good contacts across the industry, became accustomed to the particular style of negotiation in this business and developed good repertoire knowledge too. I was always interested in concert programming and loved working through concert ideas with the conductors I managed. It made sense to me to move on to a role like this with an orchestra. Landing a job with IMG Artists in London 15 or so years ago I guess was my big break.

What’s your day to day work life like?

Like most jobs there is a lot of administration that needs seeing to on any day. The challenge is not to get bogged down in dealing with emails, meetings and report writing. It is essential that I have enough time to listen to and reflect on music and programmes, and to look outside of the organisation to see what is happening across the industry and to give enough time to the planning of our concert season. I attend rehearsals when I get a chance, and I go to all our performances. We like to entertain our guest artists while they are in Auckland, so there is usually a dinner one evening in the week too.

Are there any particular challenges you face in your work?

In this business, the main centres of activity are in Europe and North America, so geographically we are quite isolated. It means that I need to be resourceful if I want the orchestra here to work with the top tier conductors and soloists that the other great orchestras in the world work with.

It involves planning artist invitations with the major Australian orchestras so that we can share costs and make the long journey more worthwhile for the artists, all of which happens up to two years in advance. I do sometimes envy my European colleagues who can plan their concert seasons completely independently of other organisations.

What has been your most memorable performance in New Zealand?

The bigger projects tend to stick in your mind because of the time spent in bringing them to fruition. In the past few months we staged a concert performance of Puccini's early opera Manon Lescaut which was terrific. We also performed with the great Russian soprano Anna Netrebko late last year which was a recent highlight, and before that we had a good time when Vladimir Ashkenazy come to conduct. That was inspiring.

Do you think working abroad has offered you greater opportunities?

I simply couldn’t have had the experiences I accumulated early in my career if I’d stayed in Ireland, so yes, absolutely.

Are there any other Irish people in your business / social circles in New Zealand?

There is one other Irish person on our staff of 37 at the orchestra. Our 72 full-time musicians in the orchestra are from all over the world but no Irish at the moment.

What is it like living in New Zealand in terms of accommodation, transport, social life and so on?

New Zealand is a really great place to live in many ways. Auckland is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, which might be a little surprising if you've never been here, and there is a wonderful mix of Maori, Pacifica and European, as well as a significant Asian population.

In Auckland, and increasingly in other parts of the country, accommodation is expensive, to rent and to buy. For the last few years Auckland had come near the top of the international housing affordability table and house prices have increased much faster than salaries have.

I enjoy the way New Zealanders socialise. They are kind and generous and that made the transition here quite easy. It didn’t take long to build up a social network. They are much quicker to invite you to their homes than the Irish or Londoners.

New Zealand has so much going for it. The climate is fantastic, with long warm summers and short mild winters. The arts scene is has enough going on that you feel you can take in nearly everything that comes through. I’m at concerts, opera, theatre, dance, and so on, at least a couple of times a week and I try to support the other arts organisations here as much as I can. Auckland has grown massively as a cultural hub in recent years, with first-rate galleries, museums, a huge annual Arts Festival and plenty of other performing arts companies.

Where do you see your future?

I feel very at home in Auckland. I work in a very international business and it is not out of the question that my next job will be somewhere else again. That said, I love living in New Zealand and I’m certainly in no rush to move on any time soon.

Is there anything you miss about living in Ireland?

The things I miss about Ireland are the people and the culture, the humour and the attitude to life. When I get back to Ireland I do feel more at home in a way. It would be great to be closer to family and friends, of course, but I’m lucky enough to get back quite regularly.

If you work in an interesting job overseas and would like to share your experience, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about yourself and what you do.