A Month in the LSO Life: April with Maxine Kwok

No two months are the same at the London Symphony Orchestra. In the month that we welcomed back Principal Guest Conductor Giananadrea Noseda, we caught a few minutes with Maxine Kwok, LSO First Violin. From coaching to radio shows, world premieres and Zoom meetings ahead of #MayTheFourth, she told us all about her April.

What LSO projects have you been involved with in April?

It’s been a really varied month for me which began with coaching the National Children’s Orchestra First Violins over the Easter break. The NCO invited 14 LSO players to get involved with inspiring the young musicians, since they couldn’t safely hold their regular music course and concert. We each led six hours of online coaching which we could structure over Zoom in whatever way we felt best. I admit I was quite nervous at the prospect of keeping 20 teenagers engaged when they probably had screen fatigue, but in the end the time flew by and we had some really worthwhile discussions, and even managed to play some duets!

This month we saw the much-welcomed return of our Principal Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda, who (after his quarantine) brought with him wonderful programmes including Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss and Nino Rota. We had also been eagerly awaiting Mark Simpson’s immense Violin Concerto which was brought to life by Nicola Benedetti in a thrilling world premiere.

Most memorable LSO moment?

I was thrilled to interview Nicky Benedetti and Mark Simpson about the Violin Concerto’s using the LSO’s Instagram Live Room. I’m always a bit nervous about any technical failures when attempting these live streamed chats from home, but thankfully everything went smoothly and it was really fun to be able to chat properly to Nicky and Mark about their own lockdown experiences and find out a bit more about the epic concerto Mark wrote.

Maxine, Nicola and Mark on Instagram Live

> Watch the interview on Instagram

What piece did you most enjoy playing?

Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, 'Pathétique' was a highlight for me – it was really the first big romantic piece we had attempted since beginning our social distancing. After the initial play through I turned to Will Melvin in my section and we both said how great it was to play music on a larger scale again and wallow in some lush melodies!

> Watch the Orchestra perform Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony on Marquee TV, available from Thursday 29 April free for seven days.

Have you done any other non-LSO work or projects?

As I write I've actually just finished recording a two-hour show for Scala Radio which is broadcast on Sunday 2 May at 6pm. Scala is celebrating the return to live music all through May, so I was really honoured that they asked me to present the first episode of 'My life in live music'. It was great fun to choose pieces I love and, more importantly, that I have missed performing. The programme is quite an eclectic mix including Ravel, Tchaikovsky, my all time favourite John Williams and even Frankie Valli! Last year I recorded a radio show for Scala from home with extremely basic equipment, so it was pretty exciting to have a fun day out going to the Scala studio! I shared lots of memories from my 20 years in the LSO so I’m hoping it will inspire people to get back into concert halls.

Maxine behind the mic for Scala Radio

Being a huge John Williams fan it was really interesting to also be part of an online Zoom session hosted by the 'Legacy of John Williams' and Tim Burden. Sir Clive Gillinson (former LSO Managing Director), Sue Mallett (Planning Director), David Jackson (LSO Percussion) and I discussed the relationship between John Williams and the LSO. It was amazing to be able to hear David Cripps share his experience of being Principal Horn for the original Star Wars films – I became a complete fan girl talking to the person who provided the gorgeous sound for so many iconic themes! The event will be broadcast on Tuesday 4 May at 8pm BST, and you can click here to find out more.

Zoom call with the panel of the LSO and John Williams event

Any hobbies you’ve been enjoying this month?

I don’t know if I can count it as a hobby but I had brunch outside for the first time in months, so there was a huge amount of enjoyment in eating something I hadn’t cooked for once!

Any random recommendations?

If you can get an invitation to the iOS based app Clubhouse, I’d highly recommend it. This last month I’ve listened to so many interesting talks from musicians all around the world discussing topics such as music in COVID times, diversity and education. I’ve found it a great learning tool and am looking forward to being on the panel for a discussion next week on pathways to becoming an orchestral musician.

What made you smile in April?

Rushing to the Barbican music library the moment it opened and finding all the quartets I needed for a Lunchtime Concert at LSO St Luke’s! I’d been really worried about someone borrowing the music before I got here, so I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I found what I was looking for.

And what are you most looking forward to in May?

Without a shadow of a doubt it’s our return to the Barbican Hall and performing for live audiences again. Whilst it’s been amazing to work so much at LSO St Luke’s, I’ve really missed the atmosphere of being on stage with an audience. I wouldn’t be surprised if I shed a tear or two when we finally get there and look out onto a sea of faces eagerly awaiting the sound of live music again.

> Browse our May and June concerts at the Barbican – tickets on sale now

Maxine Kwok

Maxine Kwok
Member since 2001, LSO Orchestra Committee Member

Maxine Kwok began her professional orchestral career touring America with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields whilst an undergraduate at the Royal Academy of Music. She successfully auditioned for the LSO String Experience scheme and became a permanent member of the First Violin section after graduating with an ARAM and first class honours degree. 

Maxine can be seen on YouTube in duo concerts and masterclasses filmed at LSO St Luke’s, and also on the LSO Play app. Maxine is keen on sharing her musical experiences with the younger generation and has enjoyed coaching the National Children’s Orchestra of GB and the Mediterranean Youth Orchestra in Aix-en-Provence. She has written articles for and been interviewed by Classic FM, the Violin Channel, the Strad, Musical Orbit and Bachtrack among others. Maxine has also recently enjoyed hosting and presenting shows for Scala Radio and BBC Radio 3. In 2010 she was invited to contribute a chapter to Tom Hoover's book Soundtrack Nation, which explores all aspects of the film recording industry.

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> A Month in the LSO Life: March with Clare Duckworth

> A Month in the LSO Life: February with James Maynard

> Meet the musicians of the LSO and find out who's who

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