First Violin Maxine Kwok: Living through Lockdown

'The LSO is so much a part of me … I need to still feel it running through my blood.' Maxine Kwok – the self-described 'rainbow-haired violinist who is never knowingly underdressed' – tells us all about her first week living through lockdown, and how she's keeping positive with memes and recipe recommendations from her fellow first violins, a daily cultural fix and #shoesasorchestralworks.


'Week one of lockdown. It does sound scarily like something you’d see advertised on Netflix – advertised as the latest reality TV show to be gorged with dinner on your lap. No, this is real life right now, something that I was aware of slightly earlier than my friends because of relatives facing that reality in Hong Kong weeks ago. But now here we are, all living it worldwide – in our very own pandemic movie, sponsored by various loungewear and spectacle brands.

As I watched Sir Antonio Pappano’s message from his home on the Royal Opera House website, I was transported back to two weeks ago when we performed our last Barbican concert with Tony at the helm, to an audience which was surprisingly large considering the spreading UK panic. The concert, which was incredible in its atmosphere, might as well have been a lifetime ago. My neighbours are now all working from home, typing furiously on laptops and taking conference calls. But what does an orchestral musician do, when she has at this very moment realised it’s not so much a love of the violin that made her want to be a professional musician, but a love of making music with other people that is the fuel in her life?

'What does an orchestral musicians do, when she has at this very moment realised it's … a love of making music with other people that is the fuel in her life?'

The deserted Barbican highwalks

I think we’ve all dreamed of having more time at home, wishing to step back from the pressures of work, having the time to get to that DIY project, blitz Game of Thrones … but when your home life is enforced, and ironically the weather decides to be outrageously beautiful at this very moment, it does feel like your liberty has suddenly been stripped away. Coupled with the scary statistics coming in hourly from around the world from places we travel to on a regular basis on tour, life suddenly seems very precarious indeed.

Being in touch daily with numerous LSO friends, I was heartened to hear that every section has its own WhatsApp group, where members are sharing recipes, recommendations for the best home delivery services and, in the case of my section, funny videos, memes and the realisation that our Co-Leader Carmine should actually enter Masterchef when this is all over. We’re so used to being a unit, together in a hothouse environment, sometimes for twelve hours at a time, not to forget the frequent touring where we travel, eat, perform and some even sleep together (I’m not being contentious here, there are about ten couples in the Orchestra!). To suddenly be forced apart has felt like having a limb amputated.

'I was heartened to hear that every section has its own WhatsApp group to share recipes.'

I was perhaps fortunate enough to be hit with a trapped sciatic nerve as soon as work was called to a halt – a niggling feeling over the previous week that I had mistakenly put down to the usual violinist RSI issues. My main focus, through a drug-induced haze, was being able to walk again, so the reality of the situation outside was quashed under a routine of limping around my living room every hour, endless heat packs and crying at 4am when I couldn’t sleep. (Shout out to video consultations with a GP and physio.) When I was mobile again it was more than a week later, and, feeling aimless, I ventured outside lest I become completely agoraphobic. Living above the shop as it were, it was a bittersweet sight to see the Barbican towers rising into the silent blue skies. However this time I wasn’t teetering on heels heading backstage ready for a rehearsal (and no doubt to gossip with my friends). The area was quiet – no City workers using the Barbican Highwalks as a short-cut, no trombone-laden student legging it to the Guildhall School; just a few lone masked residents taking a hurried walk to get a blast of Vitamin D and some air. I realised as I walked around the concrete wonderland that I was so used to hearing music wafting from Guildhall practice rooms and taxis dropping off lawyers in the buildings opposite … and that the general hubbub of daily life was now confined to indoors.

Watching an LSO streamed concert from homeTo this point I haven’t picked up my violin yet. I lost my ‘mojo’, as I told one friend. I know that this week I will open that case though. I have plenty of sheet music here and I intend to play through it as a challenge to myself, and to my neighbours I imagine – apologies in advance. I keep my social media lighthearted; since life is barefoot right now a Twitter follower suggested I post all of my shoes, one pair a day, as a #shoesasorchestralworks photo (although, as anyone know knows me would tell you, that does mean we’d be locked down for some considerable time ...) I try to do something cultural a day (whether it’s watching the LSO #AlwaysPlaying broadcasts, or a ballet, or a virtual tour of a gallery), make some home improvements, call my family, watch TV, but most of all, stay in touch in some way with the LSO.

'The LSO is so much a part of me … I need to still feel it running through my blood.'

Whether that entails chatting online to my friends and colleagues or engaging on social media when people ask when the next live stream is, the LSO is so much a part of me, that even without the physical aspect of performance right now, I need to still feel it running through my blood. We’re trying to organise a Zoom meet-up for the First Violin section this week so we can all see each other and hurl abuse face to face. This will involve the task of washing my hair, popping my lenses in, lippie, and putting a real top on and not just an old t-shirt. Is it worth it? Hell yes.'


While we are unable to perform at the Barbican Centre and our other favourite venues around the world, we are determined to keep playing. Click here to discover our programme of full-length concerts twice a week, artist interviews, playlists to keep you motivated at home, activities to keep young music fans busy and much much more.

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