A year ago, in the Auckland Town Hall, Sergey Malov was the star of the Michael Hill International Violin Competition. No Brahms or Tchaikovsky for this young Russian - he carried off top honours with Bartok.
Malov is back in the country for his winner's tour, travelling around 14 centres for Chamber Music New Zealand with pianist Michael Houstoun and Ashley Brown, as well appearing with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.
He is thrilled to be working with Houstoun and Brown again; their Monday concert takes him back to when the three men played together at the Michael Hill semi-finals last June.
"I was one of three violinists playing Beethoven's Ghost Trio in the semi-finals," he says. "Michael and Ashley played with all of us, and they were so wonderfully flexible, dealing with three different interpretations.
"And they're just as flexible this time around," he laughs. "There's such a marvellous flow of ideas between us and we've been able to get really deep into the music."
The partnership with Houstoun, as they travel around the country, has become one of the highlights of Malov's trip, along with the chance to hone his hockey skills and ski in Queenstown where, a little over a year ago, the Michael Hill hopefuls met for the first time.
On Monday, Malov and Houstoun play the Franck Sonata, "a gigantic, monumental piece," Malov sighs. "It's dedicated to my favourite violin virtuoso, Eugene Ysaye."
In an astute piece of programming, the recital will also include an Ysaye solo sonata. Malov is struck by how Houstoun is so simpatico to what he describes as his "spontaneous and crazy ideas," reminding me that he once wrote a jazz-styled cadenza for a Mozart concerto.
Little wonder that the Russian is happy to revisit John Psathas's Gyftiko, a wild and wonderful solo written as a Michael Hill test piece.
"It's so difficult," Malov explains. "First of all, you have to get rid of those classical cliches of continuous vibrato and wonderful tone because they would simply make the piece boring."
A touch of jazz improvisation might have been a useful preparation, he decides, for a work that very much fits in with the violinist's priority on musical spontaneity.
"The whole idea of improvisation is what being a musician is all about for me," he confides.
"I'd like to encourage more classical musicians to do it, whatever style they improvise in. It doesn't matter at all. The more one learns through improvising, the more one can understand the classics.
"After all," he adds with a smile, "I'm sure that the great composers just wrote their improvisations down to make their music available for the next generation of players."
On Thursday, Malov is guesting with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, playing a composer whose diabolical talents on the violin forced him to carry a certificate confirming that he was, in fact, human.
Malov admits that Nicolo Paganini is one of his culture heroes and, perhaps, the ultimate improv artist.
"At first Paganini didn't write down his own part for his concertos," he exclaims. "Probably because he was the only violinist brilliant enough to play them."
Paganini's Second Concerto is on Thursday's programme, which Malov much prefers to the composer's more popular First.
Best of all, Malov's Thursday performance will be recorded and released on Atoll Records - the perfect souvenir of what promises to be a memorable concert.