Next Friday and Saturday, a dozen young music ensembles face final judgement in the NZCT Chamber Music Contest.
Home territories range from Northland to Canterbury, with three groups of Aucklanders. In amongst the piano trios, there's a quartet of violins tackling the Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz and a pair of saxophones with piano who have chosen a tribute to Paganini by Jun Nagao, a Japanese composer, hip enough to write computer game music.
This competition, which has been running for half-a-century, attracted 469 groups this year and Peter Walls, Chamber Music New Zealand's CEO, shrugs when we ponder just how many have passed through it over the decades.
"It must be thousands," he decides.
A violinist himself, Walls missed out on competing as a teenager.
"My school was simply oblivious to it," he says. "Although I did coach a chamber group in my first year at Victoria University when I was teaching violin to make a bit of money."
Even then, there was a palpable buzz, "sitting in St Andrews on The Terrace, feeling anxious for my musicians like hundreds of other teachers over the years."
The competition is "hugely significant" for Chamber Music New Zealand, Walls says, describing it as "the jewel in the crown" of its Outreach programme.
"More and more we're realising that the educative or outreach aspect of what we do is enormously important," he explains. "Not only do we nurture future members of the profession, but we also support the various Sistema programmes and provide workshops and 'relaxed' concerts for those with learning disabilities."
Many of our professional musicians have taken part in this contest and, last year, CMNZ toured 14 of them around the country, delivering concerts under the moniker of the Turnovsky Jubilee Ensemble. Walls remembers leader, Wilma Smith, interrupting him, in the middle of a post-concert speech, to say he was understating the importance of the competition.
"For Wilma, it had been absolutely crucial as it was her first experience playing chamber music at a professional level."
Next weekend, in Auckland Town Hall, you're guaranteed top-notch performances from these musicians of tomorrow; interpretations of Dvorak, Schubert, Rachmaninov and other composers, charged with the energy and gusto of youth.
But there is always the unpredictable element, Walls says, as when four Papanui and Riccarton High School students formed the saxophone quartet, Papricca, carrying off the 2015 People's Choice Award with a funky saunter through Gordon Goodwin's Diffusion (see it online at youtube.com)
"For some, it might not have been the expected fare at a chamber music competition, but their joy and verve was totally infectious," Walls says. "I've noticed, too, over the last few years, that our groups represent the very best image of present-day New Zealand that you could possibly want.
"They catch the diversity of our times. We see pakeha, Asian and Pacific New Zealanders closely involved with one another, working in the same groups. That aspect of the competition is very different from what it was 20 years ago."
Also relatively recent to the event are two Composer Awards, with past winners including names now featuring on concert programmes around the country. Karlo Margetic, after carrying off the 2010 prize, went on three years later to win the SOUNZ Contemporary Award and is now Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's resident composer.
A highlight of Saturday evening's finals promises to be the performance of this year's winning piece in the senior divison, a Piano Trio by Liam Furey, performed by the composer's own group, The Wolf Gang.
Judge Alex Taylor praised it for its hints of Prokofiev, Debussy, Scriabin and the dramatic tension of its first movement.
What: NZCT Chamber Music Competition
Where & when: Auckland Town Hall, Semi-finals Friday 11.30am & 4.30pm; Finals Saturday, 6 August 7pm