First Violin Maxine Kwok: Happy Star Wars Day!

'Today is May 4th, or to fellow geeks out there, Happy Star Wars Day! May the 4th, May the Force … get it? … ok, never mind. Today, more significantly, marks seven weeks since the Orchestra was brought to an abrupt halt, the longest General Pause of our careers so far.'

'Seven weeks … that’s almost two months and, for pretty much all of us, the longest time in our adult lives without performing. The reality that we represent a sector of the workforce that will undoubtedly be among the last back to normality is pretty grim reading. However, being in touch with many people from the Orchestra, I’ve been struck by how resilient we humans are as a species. No longer are we waking up dazed and confused, wandering aimlessly around, pondering how to spend our days. No, many people are sticking to a schedule, albeit limited to a shrunken world, and just getting on with this life which has slowly morphed into our new normality. Art is popping up everywhere and people are sharing their music-making as best they can. The great start by violinists Julian and Alix to the LSO ‘coffee sessions’ shows that quality can be successfully recorded at home. 

Not much has changed in my life here at the Barbican since lockdown started. I had been watching the news constantly for the first month, which, coupled with a back-to-back viewing of Outbreak and Contagion one evening (thanks for recommending those, Netflix …) encouraged me to limit myself to the news only once a day, so that it wasn’t an anxious totting up of fatalities in every country and endless speculation on vaccines. I was bereft once the BBC’s Race Across the World finished, and I amused myself by putting together unlikely duos in the Orchestra racing to a tour destination minus flights, credit cards and smartphones. I do hope the LSO’s Director of Planning Sue Mallet doesn’t read this, or she’ll start plotting this as the new way forward! Suffice to say, can I please be partnered up with fellow violinist Clare Duckworth, who is a seasoned and intrepid traveller? She would certainly be able to shout motivational phrases back at me (‘There’s a Prada around the next corner!’) as I trail a mile behind.

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I still play the violin for about an hour each weekday morning, and since no one has graffitied my front door or posted rotten eggs through my postbox, I guess it’s still ok with my neighbours. #shoesasorchestralworks on Twitter and Instagram has whizzed past 40 days with no signs of slowing down. Whether I can actually walk in any of these shoes by the end of lockdown remains to be seen but it’s been fun to think through so much repertoire, and it gives me a chance to polish my babies every day, pair by pair. 

A definite highlight was having a socially distanced visit from LSO Artist Manager Robert Harston, who rode by on his bicycle as I was entertaining the local wildlife with my hula hooping skills (or lack thereof). We had a conversation at a distance, but as anyone who works in the LSO Admin knows, Robert has a very penetrating voice which booms all the way down the office from Concerts to Development, so there were no problems in hearing him in our little catch up. It was amazing to see a friend face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) rather than on a screen, although I think Robert was more amazed than anything to see me in leggings, a T-shirt and … flat shoes! Sharing a laugh together really brought home how excited I will be when this lockdown is finished and we’re able to talk to each other without the aid of a megaphone. 

The second LSO player and admin quiz saw some fabulous team names, one of which is not repeatable – percussion, I’m looking at you! George Lee, our pub quizmaster, had ironed out the teething problems from the inaugural quiz, so the stakes were high. There were two unfortunate instances of people unmuting and revealing the answer to the other 80 participants (luckily I think everyone knew what cynophobia was, but if you don’t then woof woof) and I’m proud to say Dancing Quizeens led by team captain Angela Barnes came in 4th! My team all agreed I’m in the wrong profession, having pretty much single-handedly answered all the obscure film poster round questions. Who has not heard of My Neighbour Totoro and who wouldn’t understand that a drawing of a burger and ball gag was representing Pulp Fiction

Through the marvels of Facebook, hundreds of musicians tuned in to see an informal chat between conductors Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Harding, Karina Canellakis with host Alan Gilbert. Karina conducted one of the last concerts we performed before shutdown and we would have seen Daniel and Alan in this now frozen period of time. Seeing the maestros off the podium and relaxing at home with mugs of tea or stronger was fairly surreal. They discussed all manner of topics related to the current pandemic and it was reassuring in a way to see an element of aimlessness from people who traditionally are completely in control. Many great ideas were thrown about as to the future of our performing lives and also how touring can be managed. Dan (now also a qualified commercial pilot) assures me that, in the next talk, they will actually get to the nitty gritty and let me know what airline meal he’s organising for me once he’s back with Air France.

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Speaking of flights, the LSO would have been in the Big Apple right now enjoying our yearly residency at the wonderful Lincoln Center. As per usual we would all have been eating far too much, shopping, enjoying culture and performing for our wonderful NY audience. We can’t be there right now but we can stream our concerts live to worldwide audiences, take a tour of the exhibitions at MOMA, watch a broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera House … hell, we can even shop online from Bloomingdales if we want! Tonight I’m choosing to grill burgers, sweet potato fries and have a Star Wars marathon. We might not be there in person but we can be there in spirit. Stay safe everyone.'

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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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Maxine Kwok: Finding the 'good' in Good Friday
> Maxine Kwok: Living through lockdown