Meet the Artist……Maxine Kwok-Adams, violinist

Who or what inspired you to take up the violin and pursue a career in music?

My mother studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London and my dad loves classical music so they really wanted me to learn the violin. Sadly I was hoping for tap dancing lessons at six years old so I think the first few weeks with my violin were quite disappointing for me. I have had the last laugh though as I just started private tap tuition in January fulfilling my life long dream! Let’s just say I don’t think I was destined for Broadway but amazingly I’m still on good terms with my neighbours.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I had three amazing teachers who all worked in top orchestras which I think drew me to that area of music, Beryl Auty who taught me until I was 15 and sadly passed away last year. Belinda Bunt-Broughton who regaled many tales of life in London orchestras and the session world and then Erich Gruenberg at the Royal Academy who at one time led the LSO. But I would say meeting Iona Brown when she directed National Youth Chamber Orchestra was a turning point. She heard me lead the NYO in Mahler 3 at the Proms and invited me to tour with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra the following month in the USA. I missed the first five weeks as a student at the RAM but this invaluable opportunity shaped my love of orchestras, from the playing side, and just as importantly, the camaraderie. I really would say hand on heart that those experiences of music making as a teenager have stayed with me today. 

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Working hard for my LSO audition. I had been playing in the orchestra firstly as part of their student string experience scheme, then as an extra player and I loved it so much but there was no vacancy. I freelanced for a couple of years until a job became available and of course by then I desperately wanted it so I really had to make the hard work and audition count. I can honestly say I was terrified. Working for auditions is such a tough thing, it’s an unreal situation hence I was really happy to write a post for the Strad magazine last year.

and last month I gave a talk with a colleague in the Barbican concert hall as part of the LSO’s international violin festival about how to prepare and get through auditions without a feeling of dread!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Three years ago the LSO asked me to perform a duo recital at LSO St Luke’s as they wanted to stream the concert live online having not used that technology before. That was immense fun performing with my friend and colleague Rhys Watkins and I was proud to think they trusted tutti players to do a good job. When you are playing full time in an orchestra, solo and chamber opportunities don’t come round very often and you do feel somewhat exposed in these situations. You can’t help but think, “where are the other 90 people I’m supposed to share the stage with?!” But I do like to challenge myself when I can to keep things ticking over. I have another opportunity on 26th June at LSO St Luke’s, this time with another LSO player Philip Nolte who will perform on violin and viola. The recital will also be streamed live over the internet so hopefully it’ll be a success.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I was always a big fan of virtuoso music as a student which means in the orchestra I prefer playing romantic and twentieth century music with fantastic violin writing such a Mahler, Richard Strauss and Prokofiev. I guess I always liked to show off and that has stayed with me! I also love playing film music, I think the orchestra sounds fantastic recording and performing big soundtracks which is good as in my time in the orchestra we’ve recorded at least fifty at Abbey Road and Air studios. 

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Being in an orchestra that area is all taken care of! I look in the schedule which stretches a couple of years in advance and I play what’s asked to the best of my ability, sometimes with great joy and sometimes I make a note to take off a particular piece next time it comes round if I haven’t enjoyed it so much.. 

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Suntory hall In Tokyo is one of my favourite touring venues for various reasons including proximity to the hotel, backstage facilities (free wifi!), the hall itself, the warmth of the audiences and the fact that I love Japan. HK is always special as I have so many family members there. Closer to home I love the Royal Albert Hall during the Proms season. That is so special although very nerve-wracking too with such a line up of world class orchestras night after night. The Proms’ atmosphere is unlike any other I’ve experienced.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I don’t really listen to classical music on my down time. I don’t find it so relaxing as I find it hard to detach from the feeling of performing. My iPod is an eclectic collection of musicals, film soundtracks, pop and old Gershwin numbers I imagine myself tap dancing to. Mahler is hands down my favourite composer to perform. There is so much fantastic writing for the violins and I just find his music so incredibly moving, I love all his symphonies. Most people would groan when a Mahler cycle comes round but I’m like “bring it on!”

Who are your favourite musicians?

I admire so many soloists who come into the LSO to perform, especially ones who I have grown up idolising. I can’t help but be drawn to the violinists, Janine Jansen, James Ehnes, Nikolaij Znaider to list a few. On a personal level Sarah Chang is my best friend and I’m always in awe at how much work goes on behind the scenes at that level of performance and the endless travel. I’m a big fan of my friend Ray Chen too who is not only a stunning violinist but has really broken so many barriers between musicians and audience with his hilarious social media postings and humorous videos poking fun at the profession. I can’t wait for him to come and play with the LSO! 

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I felt pretty awed at the LSO centenary concert, realising I was a part of something so historic was special. The yearly open air Trafalgar Square concerts are also very memorable. I’m amazed 10,000 people can sit/stand so quietly through music (minus the car horns honking!) that is never obvious (Stravinsky and Shostakovich for example).

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I’m a big fan of the “Quora” app and am always astounded how many people write questions such as, “How long does it take to become a virtuoso on the violin?” Or “If I start the violin at 16 will I get to be a concert soloist?’ If I reply I generally always say the same thing, you don’t get anywhere in life without hard work and a healthy dose of reality. I truly believe that working hard coupled with the right attitude can really take you far in life if you are realistic. A sprinkling of luck helps too!

What do you enjoy doing most?

Tough call between shopping and eating out! I will go with the latter, as so many of my happy memories are with friends and family around a table devouring wonderful food. Often when we are off on tour or reminiscing it’s not the concert hall we can instantly recall but the restaurants!

Maxine Kwok-Adams performs with Philip Nolte on Friday 26th June at Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke’s. Further information here

As a teenager Maxine Kwok-Adams, ARAM, was heard by violinist Iona Brown leading the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain performing Mahler’s 3rd Symphony at the Royal Albert Hall “Proms” concert and was promptly invited to tour the USA with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra the following month. Later in the year she took up her scholarship place as a student at the Royal Academy of Music but carried on touring with orchestras such as the Academy-of-St-Martin-in-the-Fields.

Before graduating with an Honours degree, Maxine was awarded a place on the London Symphony Orchestra’s coveted String experience scheme, and in 2001 achieved her dream by becoming a full-time member of the 1st violins. As a strong supporter of opportunities that give youngsters a chance to experience performing in professional concerts, Maxine nowauditions and mentors the violins of the LSO String experience scheme.

At the forefront of the LSO’s online presence, in 2010 Maxine was asked to play a duo recital for the orchestra which was streamed live over the internet, the first time the LSO used this technology. She can be seen on YouTube as the LSO violin representative for the series of master classes designed to help violinists prepare for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra auditions. She is currently preparing to host the LSO’s first “google-hangout” chat about life in the orchestra which will be streamed live through YouTube.

Playing in the LSO has taken Maxine regularly into Abbey  Road studios where she has participated in over 40 film recordings since joining the LSO, including soundtracks to Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Queen. The LSO records with artists as diverse as Paul McCartney and Jennifer Lopez to Joe Hisiashi and Lang Lang.In 2010 Maxine was invited to contribute a chapter to the book, “Soundtrack Nation” by Tom Hoover, which focuses on professionals in the film music recording industry