It's a tough time of the year if you hanker for a slice of symphony or string quartet, delivered live on a summer evening. Classical music's dry season is upon us, a two-month drought running from Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Christmas concert last month to the February launch of its main series.

Last week, Brecon Carter's annual String Quartet Summer School, now in its 30th year, proved a January lifesaver, sponsoring three public concerts at St Cuthbert's College. A programme of Mahler, Schnittke and Brahms from the Villani Piano Quartet was among them.

Italian-born Flavio Villani was a big-screen star at last year's International Film Festival, thanks to Rebecca Tansley's Crossing Rachmaninov. This documentary followed the pianist's return to Europe from New Zealand, playing the Russian composer's Second Concerto with the Orchestra Filarmonica della Calabria.

Don't fret if you missed the movie last July; next month it is given a general, nationwide release.

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The best part of the Villani group's Wednesday concert was the pairing of Mahler and Schnittke, setting the moody and melancholic Mahler against the moody and occasionally manic Schnittke. More summertime relief comes next week with the APO's annual Summer School, including a Friday afternoon concert at Avondale College. For CEO Barbara Glaser, this is a key event in the APO calendar.

"Our musicians love doing it," she tells me. "They really appreciate the input of young aspirational people with a sparkle in their eye.

"We need to look after and out for the next generation of composers, performers and conductors. I'm particularly proud that the orchestra has had such an important part to play in the journey of next week's conductor Tianyi Lu, who has gone from studies at Auckland University and mentoring by Eckehard Stier to standing in front of major orchestras such as the Halle and the Berlin Philharmonic."

Other young talent includes cellist Catherine Kwak, a teenager who has already made her mark on the international competition circuit, and who will play the Finale of the Elgar Concerto under Lu's baton.

In the past, the summer school has provided a showcase for the APO's "Rising Star" resident composer. Previous years have featured new works from Karlo Margetic, Celeste Oram and Salina Fisher; next week, we hear the premiere of Light Search by the 23-year-old Matan Franco.

Franco, born in Israel and now settled in Melbourne after spending what he describes as six formative years in New Zealand, laughs when I ask him about his inner Kiwi.

"Living in New Zealand has made me more aware of different cultures, through experiencing their various traditions and customs. I learnt a lot about being tolerant and respectful."

A trained singer - Franco was one of the trio of young spirits in NBR NZ Opera's 2006 production of The Magic Flute - he describes himself as "less interested in abstract music. I do follow a more tonal style than a lot of contemporary music out there," he asserts, assuring me that he likes to "play around musically and not consign myself to any one convention".

Favourite composers range from Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky to Broadway's Stephen Sondheim and Adam Guettel; being a proficient jazz pianist, he adds the Italian Stefano Bollani to the list.

Franco's brief for Friday's Light Search was that it should complement a playlist featuring extracts from Stravinsky's Firebird and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, with "some sort of mythical influence from New Zealand folklore".

"I went back to the tale of Maui and how he captured the sun and forced it to stay in the sky for longer," he says. "My piece is not strictly programmatic but it was definitely influenced by that story."

Performance

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra Summer School Finale
Where and when: Avondale College, 51 Victor St, Friday at 2.30pm.