First Violin Maxine Kwok: Instagram Live interviews, and camping in LSO St Luke's...

 I write this on a momentous day for me. Today sees the final day of my #shoesasorchestralworks series on social media, day 90 in fact. (A good place to stop methinks, before anyone suggests lifetime membership to Shoes Anonymous).

I could have reached three figures but I don’t think anyone is interested in my rarely worn Skechers collection.) Many thanks to a loyal Twitter follower for the idea, shoe fetishists and to those who steadily sent me messages saying I definitely had a problem. I can safely say that this exercise has proven to me that I don’t need to queue outside the shops for some time. Much more importantly though, I write this fifth blog post from my parents’ home. After three months of being as careful as I possibly could (I have not been in a supermarket since March), the government announced that a one-person household could visit one other household, and form a ‘bubble’. I don’t remember being as excited about anything in months and, as I write this, I give thanks for my family remaining healthy and, just as importantly, sane at this time. Me going to visit is a bit of a misnomer by the way – the Dadmobile came to pick me up! 

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In the time since my last blog post, I decided to make my Instagram Live interviews into a regular occurrence (any excuse to put on makeup and proper clothes – well, top half anyway). So, after a hilarious start with my friend, the wonderful mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill, where we realised one minute before starting that neither of us knew how to actually start a live chat, all has gone to plan (apart from Thomas Hewitt Jones’ faceless first two minutes and Alpesh Chauhan’s monthly coffee delivery arriving mid-interview.) It’s been great fun connecting with so many diverse musicians, some I know well and others I’ve only met via social media and really hope to meet in the near future. It’s been a wonderful way to share ideas and delve a little deeper into the psyche of what makes creative people tick and haul themselves out of bed in the mornings when there’s no performance imminent. 

I do enjoy this rather sideways shuffle in my career right now, which at first took me out of my comfort zone, and I am looking forward to presenting a two-hour show for Scala Radio on 5 July. It will hopefully be less fraught than my interview on Hunt & Darton’s Culture Mile Radio Local show as a ... ‘Barbican local legend’ (which does rather conjure up an image of me diving into the lake to save ducklings from the resident Barbican heron, or something equally heroic). My mobile phone signal can be a little uncertain at times, so talking live on the radio about life in the LSO whilst hanging off the balcony was a challenge. 

Living in the Barbican, I see the Centre in some way on my daily walks, but I had not yet wandered down to our other home, LSO St Luke’s. I was joined by my friends, violinists Clare (who walked in from Clapham) and Sarah who cycled in from Ally Pally, so I felt a little lazy that this was considered a halfway meeting point ... We had a socially distanced picnic and tent masterclass which I enjoyed immensely from the safety of a bench. I think any passers-by thought that we were so eager to restart work we were willing to camp out behind LSO St Luke’s. Or perhaps they assumed we were building a two-week quarantine Airbnb for conductors (I’m assured that the tent is very comfy).

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The fourth LSO player/admin quiz night had a hilarious round titled ‘Cheese or Ikea furniture’. Thanks to George Lee for keeping it fresh (not the cheese), which spurred the Dancing Quizeens on to try some extra team-building fun. We decided on an escape room built by ‘Trapped in the Web’ and chose the suitably titled scenario ‘Cabin Fever’ (to remind us of what touring was once like). I can safely admit that no one should ask me to be in their team in a real escape room – I couldn’t even decipher a line of morse code (funnily enough it ended up being the word ‘cheese’), but we had a great evening full of laughs and have planned another one, although I think we’ll stick to intermediate level for now.  

Where’s Simon? was released in the last few days and I have to say a hearty congratulations to Gareth Davies and Victor Craven for their tireless work on the project. At the time of recording, the First Violin chat positively exploded with questions such as, ‘Are the pencilled markings kosher?’, ‘How long is the last chord?’, ‘What are we supposed to wear?’ (If only Jani had asked me that!), but these difficulties paled into insignificance when you consider the 400 editing hours... So bravo to Gareth and Vic for their creative minds and serious use of their internet bandwidth. 

The #alwaysplaying YouTube streamed concerts came to an end last week, coinciding with what would have been the end of our season at the Barbican. It was great fun to present the BMW Classics Trafalgar Square 2019 concert from the Barbican lakeside, and to encourage people to get into the fun of an outdoor concert atmosphere. The other Barbican residents probably wondered why I was nestled amongst the flora and fauna with a giant sun hat and a selfie stick. It was also lovely to be on the YouTube chat twice weekly and to meet people who supported us through such a surreal time. Many have promised to return to the Barbican to see us, so there may be concerts where I’m waving at random people - apologies in advance! But I’m ever so grateful to the people who continued to support us through watching those archive streams and I’ll miss the twice-weekly banter. 

Right now we would have just arrived in Aix en Provence for the start of a five-week residency performing operas and concerts at the Festival. I love being in Aix: it’s like a second home for the LSO, who have spent so many happy summers there performing and also coaching the Mediterranean Youth Orchestra. I probably would have been wandering sun-drenched cobbled streets trying to resist the smell of fresh baguettes, the lure of ice cream, the siren call of the boutiques ... But I can’t be too sad. After all, I’ve had over three months of my own rather nutty company and now I get to spend time with my wonderful parents in the home I grew up in. Many people I know are still a world away from seeing loved ones right now, so even though my musical performing world hasn’t resumed, I’m ever so grateful for what I do have at this moment. 


Join us for an online programme of ‘Coffee Sessions’ with LSO musicians, playlists, recommendations quizzes and more. Visit lso.co.uk/alwaysplaying for updates.

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