First Violin Maxine Kwok: Finding the good in the past week of lockdown

'Good Friday. What’s particularly good about it this year? The weather is gorgeous, I have had more lovely chats in this last month than possibly the rest of 2020 so far, but moreover, myself and my family are healthy.' Maxine Kwok reflects on another week living in lockdown and the moments that made her smile last week.


'At this point in the season the LSO would have just performed James MacMillan’s St John Passion at the Barbican with Gianandrea Noseda, one of our Principal Guest Conductors. I would have left Easter eggs on chairs in a vain attempt to make my section as fat and greedy as myself, and we would have all waved each other off in a flurry of ‘see you in a few days!’, ‘don’t overdose on the hot cross buns’ and, ‘is it Abbey Road or Lyndhurst next week?’

I myself would have been in Philadelphia right now, behaving like a kid and recreating this photo with my friend, the violinist Sarah Chang, which was taken two years ago when her dog Chewie, who wasn’t exactly keen to be near this nightmare-inducing bunny, was shaking like a leaf for a good hour until we bought him a Pooch-ini from Shake Shack. Easter is a time when we generally pop in to see our loved ones and share in some over-indulgence, even if it’s just getting immense joy from spoiling a dog silly.

Maxine and Sarah pose in front of a big Easter bunny with a dog

It’s all a little different this year. The choices for an exciting Easter getaway for most are the bedroom, living room, or if you’re really lucky, glamping in the garden. It’s over a month since we sat down together as an Orchestra, and this indoor life is slowly becoming the norm. Orchestral Committee meetings take place via video chat, so at least once a week I need to make sure, at least from the waist up, that I look vaguely like myself. Good lighting really helps ... It’s fun to see my fellow Committee members in their home surroundings, and because of various broadband speeds, hilarious when they get frozen mid-unflattering angle like a guppy fish. Speaking of fish, even better is when pets make unscheduled appearances. These meetings are of the utmost importance though – so much has changed in our lives, but the legacy of the Orchestra, however truncated right now, needs to live on.

Many wonderful education projects are appearing online as we realise schools and music colleges won’t be returning to their base camps any time soon, and our own Discovery department has an exciting line-up of musical activities prepared. We’re all getting more familiar with the tech required for engaging with an audience from home and I for one am pretty pleased I ordered a yoga block two weeks ago. It’s come in so handy for propping up my iPad, even if it hasn't actually seen the yoga mat as of yet. I was fortunate enough to be invited by Scott Ellaway, a British conductor over in Brooklyn, to take part in his ‘Opus You’ live education analysis on Strauss’ Four Last Songs. I was thrilled to be working with Scott again, and in all honesty, when else was I going to get a chance to play the violin solo, if not in my own living room down the iPad for a captive (by default) bunch of students?

LSO members and admin staff joining each other for a pub quiz on Zoom

This week saw the first LSO in-house quiz hosted by George Lee, one of our wonderful Stage Managers. It was amazing to see over 60 players and admin on-screen with many others joining via WhatsApp or lurking on Zoom without their cameras turned on. (Surely your kitchen can’t be that messy ...) We all shouted our greetings to each other, admired pets and bemoaned lack of haircuts, before muting our mics. Many drinks were consumed since George allowed toilet breaks, or in my case a break to grab a bag of popcorn for the film poster round. I was part of the ‘Barnes and the Noble Ones’ team, and by the end of the quiz we had racked up 767 messages on the WhatsApp group where we conferred, to the immense shock of someone in the group who wasn’t playing and went to cook dinner. We’ve all decided to inhale an encyclopaedia each before the next quiz to try and redeem ourselves. For an Orchestra that tours so much, our lack of geography knowledge was pretty embarrassing, although not as embarrassing as the member of admin staff (who shall remain nameless for the time being) who pronounced the River Seine as 'Say-ian'.

My daily #shoesasorchestralworks sees no sign of coming to an end and certainly makes me pause to reflect on how I possibly don’t need all of them (what am I saying?), having lived in my slippers and designated outdoor shoes (still sparkly!) for the past three weeks. A tweet from the composer John Adams (‘Maxine is the boss’) when I paired my sparkly driving shoes with his Short Ride in a Fast Machine definitely made my morning, and I realise that if I can make one person smile with my inane and childish brand of humour then that’s good enough for me right now!'

Maxine shows off her glittery shows in the sunny Barbican estate


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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