A week with Maxine Kwok


Hello Monday! I’m never sure what day of the week it is because as musicians we tend not to have any set timetable at work. However, today I remember it’s a Monday because it’s the day the Musicians’ Census is launched. I’m proud to be an ambassador for the Musicians’ Union and Help Musicians to promote what is an extremely important survey. I spend time creating some social media content to try and reach as many people as possible. After lunch I pop to the Everyman cinema and salivate plus feel equally horrified during The Menu.

Tonight 11 string players are filming at LSO St. Luke’s at a (for now) confidential recording so we’re in the dark as to how this rather exciting project will look, but we have a fun three hours and look forward to seeing the finished result. We’ve done some overtime so rather than cook, I decide to have a quick bite in the Korean restaurant nearby which brings back great memories of being there on tour three months ago. 


The rehearsal is in the evening tonight – I imagine that’s because our principal guest conductor [Gianandrea Noseda] only lands during the day. I prefer morning rehearsals if I’m honest because whatever I’m doing means I have one eye on the time waiting if a rehearsal is later. I spend the day catching up with friends and replying to emails. I’m on the LSO Board which is really interesting as we’re self-governing so there are many things that come up for discussion. I’ve been asked to film some footage for the Apple sponsored Half Six Fix concert and I need to give the audience an idea of what to expect from the experience. It’s been years since I’ve played the piece, so I bring up Prokofiev 3 on YouTube and try to immerse myself back into the huge piece as filming is tomorrow. 

Tonight’s rehearsal is more Prokofiev (which is fortunate as he’s one of my favourite composers). The 6th Symphony is well known to the orchestra, so things fall into place easily. I’m sitting with a student from the String Experience Scheme and since I’m one of the mentors I take a great interest in seeing the progressions made. I was on the Scheme myself when I was at the RAM [London’s Royal Academy of Music] so I know how important it is to show how quickly a professional orchestra works in comparison to what a student is used to. It takes me less than five minutes to walk home and fortunately I’m a night owl, so I listen through again to the 3rd Symphony, think of points of interest for the audience, chat on the phone to a friend and finally head to bed.


We start the day in the Barbican and then walk down the road stopping at the food market to LSO St. Luke’s. We’re rehearsing the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Janine Janson and since she’s one of my absolute favourite musicians, I’m thrilled she’s back with us. We’re all in heaven hearing her play and post-rehearsal I’m getting ready for the filming downstairs when she passes by, so we have a chat about a mutual close friend. I think the filming goes well, albeit with the usual fits of laughter and swearing at times! The digital team seems happy and I record a few promos for the forthcoming Donatella Flick Conducting competition whilst I’m there. I head for home but spot some friends in a cafe so stop to have a chat. It’s Burns’ Night and I have arranged to have dinner with two lovely LSO patrons who have become close friends. We eat the most amazing food and have an interesting chat. One of them is also heavily involved in DEI at his law firm, so I mention the work that the Musicians Census is doing for musicians. A violinist starts playing Scottish reels right behind me and I hope my upper back violin inspired tattoo is not putting him off! 


It’s the concert day and apart from the rather arctic temperature onstage we have a good dress rehearsal. Afterwards I meet up with my friend, conductor Ryan Bancroft, who is the incoming principal at the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra (RSPO). I’m visiting next week so we discuss the concert programme over ramen and sweet treats from Eataly and he assures me I will love the Schmitt [La tragédie de Salomé] in particular. I head home and a good friend who I have discussed sight-reading skills with sends me a page from the modern piece [Miracle by Hilli] the RSPO is performing next week with Ryan and asks me to just record it right there and then. It’s a tricky fast and high-triplet passage so I give it a good stab (stab being the operative word) and much as I think it’s pretty horrendous he thinks it was well read. I treat myself to an hour of Netflix to recover and then get ready for the concert. 

I have friends at the performance and even though my parents used to tell me not to wave to the audience, I always do when I spot people I know. The concert feels completely energised and the Sibelius with Janine is so sublime. I don’t know anyone who plays with that passion and abandon whilst still serving the music completely. 

We have appointed a new principal double bass, Rodrigo Moro Martin, so a group of us head off for a post-concert dinner to officially congratulate him. It’s always difficult to wind down after a performance but it’s not good for the waistline all this late night eating! 


Today is a rare free day so I use the opportunity to meet Alexandre Valois, my new violin luthier and repairer. It’s important for stringed instruments to have a regular “MOT” and my regular person retired so I’ve been putting off finding someone new. After extensive questions to colleagues I feel happy to be leaving one of my babies with Alexandre and he promises to keep in touch with what the violin needs. 

I grab a coffee with my friend, composer Iain Bell and tell him about the Musicians’ Census but he’s seen my tweets and has filled in the survey so I’m pleased word is spreading. We discuss the film Tár and have the usual debate of whether seeing your own profession on the big screen makes a film believable to us. I decide to have a quiet night in so I get my big suitcase out, check the weather app and start to pack for my trip to Stockholm next week.


It is even rarer to be free at any point on a weekend for musicians but seeing as it’s a Saturday and likely busy anywhere central I don’t plan to do much. I go for a walk around the City as it reminds me so much of how lockdown was when all the offices were empty and no one was on the street. I finish packing and enjoy the fact that I don’t need to fill half my suitcase with concert wear. I’m excited for tonight as Tangram [Associate Artists at LSO St. Luke’s] are performing. The concert itself is like an incredible feast of theatre, fusing Peking opera, dynamic percussion and some evocative beautiful music all composed by BeiBei Wang. We have a lovely chat after the concert, and I feel really inspired to have witnessed a concert so full of energy.


Tonight we repeat Thursday’s concert which means we do have a rehearsal beforehand to patch for any extraneous noises during the Prokoviev. The LSO Live team really appreciate having some cover for quiet moments without any loud coughs coming from the audience. Sunday lunchtime is a good time to FaceTime my parents, who live just outside London, and my sister who lives in Hong Kong. We catch up on all the news and afterwards I do my last-minute box ticking for travelling tomorrow morning such as checking in and making sure I have the correct passport. I know I won’t feel like doing that tonight when I get home. 

The concert ends up being just as thrilling, with Noseda drawing immense power from the orchestra and Janine manages to transport us to a different world in the Sibelius 2nd movement. I realise it’s been a really enjoyable few days as I set three separate alarms (essential for a morning flight) and think about what excitement the next week will hold, whilst praying it won’t bring about any lost luggage…

Maxine Kwok is a violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra, where she serves as a board member and mentor, and an ambassador for the Musicians’ Union and Help Musicians to promote the Musicians’ Census.