If violinist Anthony Marwood finds Thomas Ades' Concentric Paths hard to play, it's his own fault. The pair were performing together in the mid-1990s when Marwood came to know the then 20-something composer, who was fresh from his first great success.
"I was completely blown away by Powder Her Face and there was a voice in my ear telling me that I must ask him for a concerto," he says of Ades' reputation-making chamber opera.
The work, which Marwood plays with the APO on Thursday, took a decade to emerge but the violinist doesn't begrudge the time. One can never wait too long for a masterpiece, he reasons.
When it did arrive, in the years just before digital file transfers, Marwood received Concentric Paths one page at a time during a couple of weeks – via fax.
"I had to pick [the pages] up from a hardware store in rural Vermont," says Marwood. "It was like a jigsaw puzzle, coming together piece by piece."
The assembled picture is among the most intriguing concertos of recent years, constructed from circular patterns, with glittering outer movements orbiting the work's emotional (and literal) core. Despite lasting a too-brief 20 minutes, Concentric Paths is as satisfying for the listener as it is taxing for the soloist.
"From a technical point of view, Tom asks the violinist to do things I'm not sure I've been asked before," says Marwood. "He really uses the extremes of the instrument. I simply don't know how he knew it was possible but he has such assuredness and clarity that it is all possible. Just."
Ades knew it was possible because he heard Marwood do it. The composer was inspired by listening to the violinist practise, which is why Marwood can only blame himself for the concerto's difficulty.
"When I say to Tom that it's hard to play, he says, 'Well, I remember when we were rehearsing together, you'd be messing around and trying something ridiculous at the top of the instrument.' He claims that gave him an idea or two but I was half fooling around."
Marwood is a regular visitor to New Zealand – when we speak he's in Nelson at the Adam Chamber Music Festival and he returns later in the year to judge the Michael Hill International Violin Competition – and Kiwi audiences are used to hearing him perform new music. In 2010, he gave the world premiere of Christchurch composer Ross Harris' Violin Concerto while his performance of Distant Light, by the Latvian Pēteris Vasks, was a highlight of the APO's 2012 season.
"It's a very special joy to play music for people; you feel like some kind of pioneer," Marwood says.
However, the violinist doesn't consider himself a contemporary music specialist. He played all of the core works for piano trio as a member of the acclaimed Florestan Trio and he's the principal artistic partner of Canadian period instrument orchestra Les Violons du Roy.
Marwood's tastes are so eclectic and his repertoire so broad, he has no idea how many concertos he has at his fingertips. Beethoven, though, remains a constant. When we speak, Marwood's about to travel to St Louis to play and direct the violin concerto.
The violinist says he enjoys the challenges of combining performance with conducting.
"Those of us who do that know just how much it involves, how much it takes to be doing everything. But the rewards are high if the work goes well, because you play completely as a team; there's a fusion that is very exciting."
The first time he directed Beethoven from the violin was in late 2017, with the musicians of the Australian National Academy of Music.
"It was a huge couple of weeks with them, very intense," Marwood recalls. "When it was all over we had a wonderful party, which I left at about 3am, and I got stuck in bizarre weekend traffic in the middle of Melbourne. I looked at my phone and there was an email which looked so much like spam that I was irritated by it and almost deleted it."
The email wasn't junk, it was to advise Marwood he had been awarded an MBE for services to music. For the violinist, a former concertmaster of the European Union Youth Orchestra, his trip to Buckingham Palace was a chance to reconnect with his homeland.
"The investiture was extraordinarily grand," he says. "It's nice to know we can still do something very well; it was enjoyable in very disturbed times to have that experience with my own country."
What: Anthony Marwood and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Fantasy.
Where & When: Auckland Town Hall, Thursday, February 14