Making magic behind the curtain

Jessica Duirs. Photo: Michael Smith Photography.
NZTrio: Amalia Hall (violin), Ashley Brown (cello), and Somi Kim (piano). Photo credit: Garth Badger.
How an unforgettable moment while waiting in the wings sparked a lifelong passion for Jessica Duirs.

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Who Got the Gig? Jessica Duirs

Renowned for their impressive musicianship and engaging performances, NZTrio transcend the genre of classical music, aspiring to deepen its appeal and make it more digestible for the general public. The piano trio recently advertised its leadership role on The Big Idea and hired a new manager, Jessica Duirs, to help them continue to bring live music to local and international audiences. Jessica’s unrelenting enthusiasm for classical performance—a passion born out of her first performance as an opera chorus member at university— made her the perfect candidate.

“The first opera I performed in was Cavalleria Rusticana,” Jessica says. “I remember sitting in the wings waiting to go on, listening to the intermezzo, and suddenly I was flooded with the enormity of the situation: the sheer dedication and hard work by everyone involved to produce something magical. It’s a moment I’ll remember forever.”

Jessica studied a BMus (Hons) in voice at The University of Auckland and, after working in other administration roles for a number of years, moved into the position of artist resource and contract manager for New Zealand Opera.

“Suddenly I was flooded with the enormity of the situation: the sheer dedication and hard work by everyone involved to produce something magical.”

“I negotiated with artists and managed contracts, but I also did things like concert programming and stage management, as well as auditioning singers for principal roles and liaising with emerging artists in the intern programme. While I had a large range of responsibilities, it wasn't as broad as my current role… but that's the point right? You move onto more complex things that keep your days interesting and provide new challenges.”

Jessica has only been managing NZTrio for a couple of weeks, so is yet to discover the full extent of her role. However, it will likely involve liaising between the musicians and the board of trustees, keeping the finances ticking over, applying for grants or funding, organising NZTrio’s schedule, booking venues, and negotiating fees for external concerts or tours.

“At the moment I’m writing lots of emails and attending meetings to get to know the systems and people that connect with NZTrio. I've been visiting some of our venues too—to check out the space, get a feel for it, and meet their support staff. We have two concerts coming up in December: one at Mairangi Arts Centre and the other at Auckland Art Gallery. I love the fact that NZTrio have this connection with visual art because performing in these venues contributes to the feel of the music and the overall experience that audiences have. It reflects the vibe of NZTrio too—it's fresh, innovative, and contemporary.”


NZTrio: Amalia Hall (violin), Ashley Brown (cello), and Somi Kim (piano). Photo credit: Garth Badger.

Excited for NZTrio’s upcoming performances, Jessica says they will be performing Tectonic Uprising. In this programme, talented NZTrio musicians Amalia Hall, Ashley Brown, and Somi Kim lead audiences into a musical exploration of contentious moments in history, including New Zealand’s turbulent relationship with the United Kingdom.

“I'm particularly looking forward to Charlotte Bray's dream-like That Crazed Smile, inspired by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which will sound beautifully ethereal in the light-filled North Atrium at the Auckland Art Gallery.”

Choosing performing arts as a career can be incredibly tough and unfortunately very few people have the opportunity to make it a full-time job. Jessica explains that many performing arts students eventually have to come to terms with the fact that it might not be their day job.

“By being on the other side of the curtain, you create opportunities for other’s talents to thrive, which is actually a really satisfying thing.”

“It can be upsetting to learn that, but I think it is a pretty common experience. What helped me was discovering that by being on the other side of the curtain, you create opportunities for other’s talents to thrive, which is actually a really satisfying thing — being part of creating that opportunity. I never planned to do arts management, I guess this career path just unfolded as a possibility and I'm so thrilled that it did.”

While Jessica has not pursued performance as a career, she still makes time for it outside of work. She has sung in the Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus for 20 years and was asked to help adjudicate the 2019 IFAC Handa Australian Singing Competition heats in New Zealand.

“No matter how busy I get, I always try to keep performing—it's such an important part of my identity. I'd be really sad to lose it. Even though I've been pretty busy over recent years (I have a couple of young children) I try to balance family-life with work, while also fitting in performing. This sometimes means quite a tight schedule but it is worth it. I love that my kids can see me doing all this.”

Who Got the Gig?

For 17 years, The Big Idea has helped creatives find work and opportunities in New Zealand and arts organisations and creative companies find the right people.

Did you advertise your new gig - or score it - through The Big Idea? Tell us about it! Email editor@thebigidea.co.nz.

If you have a new job or position to fill, list it in our Work section, or contact us on advertising@thebigidea.co.nz for more info.

Written by

Emanuella de Ruiter

25 Nov 2019

Emanuella is a documentary photographer and writer based in Ōtautahi Christchurch. She enjoys writing about people and their unique life experiences — especially when those experiences involve the arts!

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