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Liisa McMillan
Her Career Thus Far

SOUNZ would like to congratulate Liisa McMillan on her new appointment as the RNZ Concert Manager. Liisa has been with RNZ for many years and has been a great contributor to many aspects of the network. SOUNZ and RNZ Concert work as partners on a number of projects, and Concert’s programme features many works that are recorded locally. Nina Lesperance from SOUNZ caught up with Liisa to discuss her career thus far.

How did you decide on a career within the music industry?

I think of myself as a media professional with an enduring fascination with music and its makers. This helps me to keep music magical, and not like ‘work’.

It took a long time – many years - for me to ‘officially’ combine my love of radio with my passion for music, even though some of my earliest memories are of hearing music on the radio over the traditional kiwi breakfast of weet-bix and milo.

I fell hard for New Zealand music in my early teens. It immediately felt like home to me, and I was thrilled that people here – accessible people – could communicate so directly to me about here, now. I really wanted to share it, so other people could have that same amazing experience. Still do.

 What has been your career progression through Radio New Zealand?

 As a teenager I co-produced a New Zealand music show on community station Access Radio, then part of Radio New Zealand. This alerted me to the role of sound engineering, which was my first job here, working on live radio shows, news and current affairs, documentaries, adverts, etc. I worked in public and commercial media here and in London during this time. It was an amazing education.

I moved into producing live radio shows on RNZ National, then started making features and documentaries, finally including music-focused topics. That evolved into looking after RNZ National’s Music 101 programme and team.

I jumped over to working on the RNZ website, mainly as a short-cut to learning about music copyrights and licencing online, so we could share the musicians stories and performances we were recording for radio, with our online audiences too.

Then (phew) I came back to RNZ Music as the Content Editor to put that into practice.

 How did you first start with RNZ Concert?

 I’ve worked alongside Concert people since the earliest days of my career as a studio operator, and when I was a curator for the RNZ website, but I began to get deeply involved around 2015 when I took on the Music Content Editor’s role. I worked with the team to transpose their radio stories about music, arts and culture onto the website.

I also began working with our internationally recognised live music production team. We did a lot of work with our wonderful performance partners across New Zealand to allow RNZ Concert’s live music recordings to be offered online.  

This is also when I was introduced to Concert’s fruitful collaborations with SOUNZ, initially on the ReSound project, which tuned up my knowledge of past NZ composition and performance. Nowadays the two organisations work together to create quality audio plus visual recordings of NZ compositions, for the greater good.

 What's coming up on RNZ Concert that the SOUNZ audience should keep an eye out for?

Well, all of it, obviously! We’ve doubled the amount of New Zealand composition and performance we broadcast over the past couple of years, and our audience has just increased to 229,500 people per week (up 11,200 listeners this quarter) – surely these things are related!

Find out how to listen to RNZ Concert here

Do you have a New Zealand Composer that you really enjoy listening to?

 Yes. Many. Here, today I will mention:

 Dame Gillian Whitehead, fresh in my heart because we celebrated her 80th birthday on the radio a couple of weeks back. 

I love the sense of place that imbues much of her music. I took my tween to the NZSO’s première of her piece Turanga-nui a few years back, which conveys a vivid story. This was my daughter’s favourite piece of the night, and she was so excited to see the composer – a real live NZ wahine - take the stage to accept a bouquet.

 Another wonderful experience of hearing NZ composition in action was during the opening of Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand (February 14, 1998!). Gareth Farr’s commission Te Papa for (NZ) Symphony Orchestra, Singers and Pacific Percussion was performed in the huge atrium there. I was working on the live radio broadcast of the event, but snuck out to hear this, and it was literally awesome! I also love From the Depths Sound the Great Sea Gongs.

 Salina Fisher: Rainphase

I knew Salina a little bit by the time Rainphase was selected as a finalist for the SOUNZ Contemporary award in 2016. Again, I was working on RNZ’s coverage of the awards that evening and had top-secret access to the winners list because of that. Bumping into Salina and her lovely mother before it was announced that she’d won, I managed to play it *very cool* while I jumped up and down on the inside for her. It was great. And I still love this piece. (also Coastlines)

Here’s the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Tianyi Lu performing Rainphase during their marvellous ‘A Woman’s Place’ concert from 2018.