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.  http://www.thestrad.com/cpt-latests/how-to-be-successful-in-an-orchestral-audition/

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! http://www.thestrad.com/cpt-latests/strad-panel-discussion-surviving-orchestral-auditions/

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


John Mills, violinist

Who or what inspired you to take up the violin, and make it your career?

No one individual directly; we were asked in school assembly if we would like to learn the violin and I said yes. Still not sure why! Over time I realised I couldn’t imagine doing anything else and threw myself into it. I was quite a late starter so I felt I had some catching up to do.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing/composing?

At the start of my career it was my teacher at music college, Rodney Friend. He showed me that any problem can be overcome quickly and easily, he taught me to be my own teacher. He also gave me the confidence to enter a highly competitive environment.

In the profession, working with the English Chamber Orchestra shaped my approach to different kinds of repertoire. It was immediately apparent that it was an orchestra who knew how it wanted to play classical repertoire and beyond. This made it very easy to fit in with and assimilate this stylistic approach.

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

Time management! When you have a lot of work, preparation at home to do and admin/planning/promotion etc. time becomes a valuable commodity. You quickly learn to do all of these things faster.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

With the ECO there have been many occasions over the years, often tours as you have the opportunity to develop performances over time. We toured Germany at the end of last year, by the end of the tour we were playing a mean Britten Frank Bridge Variations!

I also had the opportunity to lead the orchestra at Kings Place this year where I thought the orchestra sounded terrific.

With my group the Tippett Quartet I’m very proud of our Bernard Herrmann recording for Signum.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

This depends on the repertoire and so the size of the orchestra. When it’s the ensemble you simply can’t beat Wigmore Hall. Kings Place also sounds great and is a welcome addition to London’s venues. Our home at Cadogan Hall is a really good venue and an appropriate size for the repertoire we play. A lot of the best halls are out of London though; personal favourites are Symphony Hall Birmingham, The Sage Gateshead and the Royal Concert Hall in Perth.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

With ECO I have a list! Bartok Divertimento, Britten Frank Bridge Variations, Strauss Le Bourgeoise Gentilhomme, any symphony by Beethoven or Mozart…

On a smaller scale, Schubert string quintet, string quartet Death and the Maiden, anything by Mendelssohn but specifically string quartets Op. 12 & 13 and late Beethoven.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’ll restrict this to people who have worked with ECO recently or the list is endless! Isabelle Faust, Plamena Mangova, Sergie Krylov, Marianna Thorsen, Lawrence Power and ECO’s own Stephanie Gonley!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I suffer from a terrible memory and after about a month most things start to blend in together. However, there are a few dates that linger in the memory for different reasons: my first ECO date I was at the back of the 2nd violins and there wasn’t room on stage for me in the piano concerto! I turned pages… We played in Eisenstadt a few years ago where Stephanie played Haydn C major violin concerto in the home of Haydn live on radio. She turned an average piece into a masterpiece. My first concert leading the orchestra is also a very fond memory.

With the quartet it is playing Beethoven Op. 131 in Wigmore Hall.

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

The most important thing is that they love doing it, you can work on the rest. In our field, it is harder than ever to make a living as pay and opportunity have dropped dramatically over the years while competition is now global. Loving what you do gets you through the frustrations and helps you stay creative. With the right perspective, we can view ourselves as very lucky people doing what we love, otherwise it becomes just a job, a grind with few benefits.

What are you working on at the moment?

ECO has a little time off after Grange Park Opera at the moment so it’s mostly my own projects. I’m listening to edits of a forthcoming Rozsa string quartets disc for Naxos with my group the Tippett Quartet. I recently played a very last minute Elgar violin concerto for the 1st time; chastened by the experience I’m getting in some early preparation for a Glazunov concerto that I’m playing with Bath Symphony Orchestra in November. It’s a work I’ve played twice before but as I mentioned earlier, time management!

What is your most treasured possession?

I always feel the real value of a possession is the pleasure you get from using it rather than the possession itself, so a qualified entry here. I don’t actually own my violin but have had it on loan for 7 years now. It has been an amazing journey as I have learnt to play it and it has changed out of recognition over the years. At nearly 300 years old you could forgive it for being stuck in its ways, but we have both adapted to each other remarkably.

John Mills began studying the violin in Southampton in 1990 and in 1996 he gained a place at the Hampshire Specialist Music Course and joined the National Youth Orchestra. Two years later John gained a place at the Royal College of Music where he studied as a scholar under professor Rodney Friend, one of the great orchestral leaders, for five years. He also participated in master-classes with Hugh Bean CBE, Ida Haendel and Zvi Zeitlin. He became a ‘Making Music’ (National Federation of Music Societies) recommended artist in 2003-2004.

John is well known as a chamber musician and is the leader of the highly acclaimed Tippett Quartet, performing, and broadcasting widely across the UK and worldwide. He has recorded extensively with the quartet for EMI, Naxos, Signum, Classic FM, Dutton and Guild record labels.

John is the co-leader of the English Chamber Orchestra and is in demand as an orchestral leader, including a trial with the Bournmouth Symphony Orchestra and guest work with the London Mozart Players, Rambert Dance Company and others.

John is gaining a fine reputation as a soloist, performing and broadcasting the major violin concerti across the UK and abroad, including the Liszt Hall in Hungary and concerts in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, New Zealand. He has also appeared as soloist with the English Chamber Orchestra and will be appearing with them next year in a performance of the Bach Double violin concerto.

John Plays on a 1735 Januarius Gagliano violin.



Craig Stratton (photo: Peter Humfryes)

Who or what inspired you to take up the violin, and make it your career?

I used to hear my grandfather play violin when I was 7 years old and just seemed to be fascinated by the instrument itself and by his sense of humour that seemed to harmonise with it. After that, it was a question of parental encouragement and getting my first inspirational teacher, Mr. Duckering who lived locally. I think when you get good at something quickly you hang on to it and before you know it, it becomes a way of life, or indeed a living. I was also learning piano and the two instruments seem to go hand in hand right through University and music college. When you meet others along the way that are also learning an instrument and experiencing similar musical times, then inspiration comes naturally all around you.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?

My two years spent studying in Prague, Czech Republic, became a huge influence in the way I played. My teacher there was Prof. Ivan Straus, who really changed the way that I practised, and helped me to think about my vibrato and sound. I attended numerous master courses in Austria and in the Czech Republic where I met some incredible players who shared invaluable musical and technical ideas that I try now to share with my students. Feats of brilliance in any discipline, being music or indeed any other, always evoke the question: “How on earth do they do that..?”. When you hear or see great artists both on the stage and in close proximity, it is bound to influence the way you approach your own skills in some from or another.

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

Recording my CD From the Homeland was one of the biggest challenges to date. It’s the actual process of getting to that red button that makes it so rewarding. It’s not just the hours of rehearsing, but all the administration and phone calls that go with it!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My CD is definitely something I am proud of. Any recital that I have done I would like to be proud of for similar reasons as in the previous question. There is something, however, about live performing though that is endearingly unpredictable! Each performance is so different (hopefully), and one never knows how the audience is going to react. Whatever the case, it’s a sense of accomplishment coming off the stage and is sure to make you feel proud. Whatever happens during performance, good or bad, you learn from the experience.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

The Bergersen Quartet, in which I play, performed at the Barbican in London late last year. So many amazing musicians have played there, so definitely one to tick off the list.

I did a recital in a Norman church down in a small village in the south of England. It has great acoustics and a very appreciative audience. I had the opportunity to play with my country folk band Pig Earth at Wembley Arena in London last month. It’s hard to beat the feeling of exhilaration as 6000 people cheer you on!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

The Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major by Prokofiev is a particular favourite of mine to listen to. I’ve never got tired of it. At the moment I love performing works by Astor Piazzolla, especially the Grand Tango, which I played at a recital recently. The Czech Rhapsody by Martinu is another work I love to play purely because of its driving folk rhythms and “on the edge of your seat” ensemble writing with the piano. I always like to put into a programme a work or two, which may be lesser known by audiences. I must also mention the Scriabin piano Preludes, some of which I love to play (although a little rusty these days). Many of these Preludes are barely a minute long but brimming with intense dynamics and incredible harmonies.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Most people reading this question will be screaming simultaneously at their screens, claiming that such a list is far too big to put on here, but since you’re asking, Shlomo Mintz or David Oistrakh have to be on my personal list favourites for violin tone. Others on that list include Sarah Chang, Itzhak Perlman and Vadim Repin. For technical prowess, check out violinist Ning Feng. I also love pianists Vladimir Ashkenazy, Evgeny Kissin, Vladimir Horowitz and John Lill. Outside the classical world, I’ve always been a huge fan of Prince, who is certainly one of the most talented musicians and songwriters I’ve ever heard. His after show gigs are unforgettable and in fact I managed to meet him personally in a bar in New York a couple of years ago. I’m learning how to play banjo at the moment (but don’t tell anyone) and admire the picking of Bela Fleck, Noam Pikelny and Tony Trischka.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Years ago, I went with my dad to hear Shlomo Mintz perform at the Barbican playing Paganini’s Concerto No. 1. Talk about faultless technique and a warm rich sound! I remember a close friend of mine at school introduced me to a recording of Shlomo Mintz playing the Prokofiev Violin Concertos, particularly No.1 in D major. I just couldn’t believe how sublime and dream-like this music was. Years later I managed to get Shlomo Mintz to sign that CD for me after a concert he played in London. Must also mention that I had the pleasure of looking after John Ogden when he came to give a concert at my school. As a young pianist, that was a musical experience that I wasn’t going to forget in a hurry and still remember vividly.

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

As with any art form, I would say the bottom line is work at it everyday. Find a teacher that comes highly recommended and that can inspire you. There is an ever increasing number of great and talented musicians out there so you have to be on top of your game. Get out there and go to concerts. Try to find other like-minded musicians that you can form groups with. You’ll be amazed how much you can learn from your colleagues or indeed they can learn from you! Try to perform regularly, even if to just family and friends. Setting concert dates is important, as you will have a target to work towards. Don’t forget to enjoy it!

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am working on the usual suspects of scales and studies. I have some concerts coming up with the quartet next month at the Brighton Fringe Festival, and solo work in the Czech Republic. For the latter, some unaccompanied Bach is on the menu. On the piano, I am pretending to learn Un Sospiro by Liszt.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I often have this conversation with friends who ask me of where I want to be in the next 10 years or what my dreams are for the future. I always reply that I hope I am doing exactly the same variety of projects as I am now. I like to think that I am indeed living the dream now, as we speak.

Craig Stratton studied violin performance in London and in Prague, with Professor Ivan Straus. He has attended courses in Bechyne, Czech Republic and spent numerous summers at the master courses in Semmering, Austria.

Craig has given solo recitals in the UK, France, Czech Republic and Florida and has also performed extensively on Fred Olsen, Page and Moy and Noble Caledonia cruises. He has performed duo recitals with pianists Sholto Kynoch, Simon Howat and Liz Rossiter.

He has appeared on countless film and TV productions including, Downton Abbey (Series 3), Star Wars Episode 1, Bridget Jones, Die Another Day, Holby City, Miss Marple, Foyles War, and Midsomer Murders.

As a session player, Craig has performed on Julian Cope’s album ‘Interpreter’ and appeared on the Jools Holland Show with Tindersticks. He is a member of the BERGERSEN STRING QUARTET which specialises in spectral music and contemporary works by living composers. The quartet performed on the recent “Songs to Save a Life” album for the Samaritans.

In 2004, Craig released From the Homeland which is now available online. The CD was featured on the Classic Fm Evening Concert and given three stars in the Classic FM magazine. From the Homeland has also been broadcast on Lyric FM, Dublin.

Craig plays violin, banjo and mandolin in the country folk group PIG EARTH who won best Horizon Act of the Year at the British Country Music Awards and performed at Wembley Arena in February 2012


blog: www.craigstratton.wordpress.com
Pig Earth: www.pigearth.com