Thomas Hamill had seen a lot of books about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, so he was lukewarm when he was offered the chance to look at another.
But within minutes of being handed New Zealand author and illustrator Donovan Bixley's children's book Mozart: The Man Behind the Music – at least, it's promoted as a children's book – Hamill's mind was racing and thoughts of a concert were taking shape.
"This was a book that spoke about Mozart as a person who was larger-than-life," says Hamill, who heads the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Connecting education and outreach team. "Mozart is usually written about as the epitome of genius who wrote beautifully complex music that is challenging to play but Donovan's book humanises him and makes him real and believable."
Now the APO is staging Amazing Mr Mozart based on Bixley's Mozart book (s) – Mozart: The Man Behind the Music, an updated and revised version of 2006's Faithfully Mozart: The Fantastical World of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Hamill and Bixley couldn't be happier. Billed as a family-friendly celebration of Mozart's music, Bixley will narrate the show which promises to provide a glimpse into the more interesting moments from Mozart's life as described in his personal letters.
Opera singers soprano Pasquale Orchard and baritone Will King join the on-stage hijinks and while they perform, Bixley's illustrations will be projected on screen.
"There's nothing more fun than standing on stage with an entire orchestra," says Bixley, quickly admitting he hasn't done it very often.
He teamed up with the APO when it used pictures from his Old MacDonald's Farm book in a kids' concert and also for a "live draw" at the end of last year (Bixley drew Frosty the Snowman) but this is by far their biggest collaboration yet.
Bixley plays saxophone and sings with the 13 piece funk/jazz ensemble Hot Tub – although he's fairly self-deprecating about his musical skills.
"I sing mainly because I'm not good enough to play the amazing music everyone else does but it's so much fun being on stage with that many people and making music so I can imagine being on stage with a giant orchestra will be amazing!"
Like Hamill, he hopes it will challenge the "chocolate box" view people may have of Mozart and start to introduce a new generation of fans to the man he describes as one of the most intriguing people in history.
"He wasn't just writing fluffy, one-dimensional music but a board range and he was gregarious, a real character," says Bixley. "I'm always amazed that there are people who are really big classical music fans who know nothing about his personality and the things he did…"
Tickets go on sale today with more information at apo.co.nz/mrmozart
What: Amazing Mozart
Where & when: ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Sunday September 1