Shauno Isomura is carrying a cake. It's the violinist's 25th birthday and he's just come from a party; he didn't mention the celebration when, a few days earlier, we arranged to speak.
You soon learn this about Isomura. He's friendly and seems happy to talk but he's prone to casually dropping tidbits of information into his conversation as if they're of no consequence. Birthdays. Music written specially for his chamber group by hip-as-it-gets New York composer Missy Mazzoli. No big deal.
Except it is a big deal. Birthdays come every year but a bespoke composition from one of the world's most exciting artists? That's once-in-a-lifetime stuff.
It started with a piece of music. In early 2015, having never played in a string trio, Isomura was suddenly thrown together with fellow music students Julie Park (viola) and cellist Sally Kim. They were told they were flying to Beijing to perform and had just three weeks to put a programme together. They didn't even have a name.
"I wanted a reason behind the name," says Isomura, adding that Mazzoli's Lies You Can Believe In was the first piece the group prepared.
"We'd never played string trio music; we'd never listened to string trio music, to be honest. Then we heard the Mazzoli piece and it felt so new for us. I decided I wanted to spread these undiscovered string trios. And then I thought that would be the soul of the trio, using string trios that aren't often played in New Zealand."
Missy Mazzoli is a rising star. The opera Breaking the Waves, based on Lars von Trier's movie, won the 2017 Music Critics Association of North America award for best new opera, while her Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) was performed to acclaim at last year's BBC Proms.
Mazzoli's name seemed the perfect fit for a group wanting to share the excitement of the new and so the Mazzoli Trio was born. Isomura contacted the composer for her blessing; she loved the idea and promised to write a new work for the trio.
"We haven't told anyone yet but we're recording the complete string trios and string quartets of Missy Mazzoli on CD," says Isomura.
These will be the first professional recordings of the works; no big deal. Meanwhile, Missy Mazzoli has said: "These are among my strongest and most personal pieces. I have been consistently impressed by this ensemble's artistry and sense of adventurousness, and I feel they are the perfect ambassadors for these works."
The collaboration will see the trio fly to the United States to work directly with the composer.
However, before then, there's the small matter of a couple of tours: one to Japan with his pianist brother Kent, where they will play contemporary New Zealand and Japanese music; the other a local concert tour for Chamber Music New Zealand (CMNZ), as part of CMNZ's regional series.
According to CMNZ's Jeff Hobbs, the organisation's regional tours offer musicians the rare chance to play a series of concerts that present the same repertoire, rather than just giving one-off performances.
"It means musicians can work on a programme and hone their skills as a group in a way that's not always possible for chamber music groups," says Hobbs.
The Mazzoli Trio was one of only a few groups chosen for the regional series from more than 50 applicants. Selection was a long and rigorous process, beginning a good 18 months before Isomura and his group take to the stage.
"They're a classic example of the emerging talent we like to support," says Hobbs, explaining why he picked the Mazzoli Trio. "Shauno has a long body of work he's been doing with his brother and all the individual members of the group have achieved quite a lot individually; they've won competitions and seemed to have a desire to put together an interesting programme."
The programme is interesting, mixing the formal classicism of Haydn and Schubert with the deeply Romantic Dohnanyi. Less well known, but arguably more diverting, are works from Francaix — a frothy bonbon with hints of Ravel, New Zealander Anthony Ritchie's beautiful Spring trio and, of course, Missy Mazzoli. The group play the piece that first inspired them, Lies You Can Believe In, a hustling, bustling swirl of a street scene.
Isomura's pleased with the programme, though he concedes some of the composers will be unfamiliar to audiences.
"We wanted to introduce music that's undiscovered. When you just hear the names: who's Francaix, who's Mazzoli? But we're confident that if people hear them, they will connect with the music. We've tried to make a programme with variety and one which represents the soul of the Mazzoli Trio."
With that, Shauno Isomura picks up his baked goods, walks out of the building and into a bright future. I didn't get a slice of Isomura's birthday cake. It's his and he gets to eat it, too.
* Cavernous and resonant, the silos of Silo Park make a great soundscape. See nzherald.co.nz/culture
What: The Mazzoli Trio
Where & when: Warkworth, Sunday; Lower Hutt, March 26 and Kerikeri, June 8.