Life in a top orchestra is a varied and exciting one and who better than the colourful Maxine Kwok to recognise that and start an inspiring project to document that life.
Maxine has been a first violin with the London Symphony Orchestra since 2001. Her career with the LSO has taken her to countless countries across the globe including tours across Asia, South America and frequent trips to Europe. The orchestra performs up to 150 concerts a year at their home in the Barbican Centre and abroad.
Maxine describes her place in the orchestra more as a ‘lifestyle’ than a job. There’s no such thing as ‘a typical working day’ or week. She gave an example of a week where they went from recording the music for a Lloyds bank advert to playing a Sibelius symphony the following day!
Clearly, this lifestyle presented Maxine with an excellent opportunity to document the exciting events and the talented people who join the orchestra to work on a wide variety of projects, from recording the music for Harry Potter movies, to working with others such as George Clooney and Emma Thompson.
This documentation has taken the form of collecting autographs and, since the invention of the smartphone, an impressive gallery of selfies.
‘You just have to ask,’ she smiles. ‘If you approach them at the right time – not when they focussing on work – then people are happy to join in the project.’ Her collection also includes pictures with Ewan McGregor, Emili Sande and Guillermo del Toro, to name a few.
Before delving into her impressive collection, we discussed how she balances her everyday life with the busy schedule of rehearsals and touring. If you follow Maxine on social media, you can see that she is very active there. She remarked that she enjoys showing the real side of a musician’s life and giving everyone a behind-the-scenes glimpse into it. She stressed that it is important for people to see that orchestra members are normal people who have normal lives outside of the concert hall.
Maxine’s autograph collecting career started after receiving a notebook from the Millennium Dome as a present from her father. It was a special book that she felt needed a reason to be written in. Her most notable early autographs include Sir Tom Jones, Paul McCartney and Anne Sophie Mutter, who was a hero of Maxine’s growing up.
Anne Sophie Mutter
Other mementos from the stars of the classical music stage include Yuja Wang, Lang Lang, Mstislav Rostropovich, John Adams and Michael Tilson Thomas.
|John Adams||Michael Tilson||Thomas Mstislav Rostropovich|
While she said it can be nerve-wracking, no one has said ‘no’ yet. They are normal people as well! One of the best stories to illustrate this was when she got a picture with George Clooney. Of course, he is asked for pictures all the time, so to stand out and hopefully get a laugh from the Hollywood star Maxine asked “Would you like a picture with me”– it was a success!
Naturally, music and the violin are integral parts of Maxine’s life, but alongside this, she is a huge Harry Potter and Star Wars geek (her words not mine!). With the LSO recording the soundtracks to both of these monumental film series’ she was in her element. When the film was complete and the orchestra was putting the all-important music into the scenes, the actors would come to listen. The collection below is a Harry Potter and Star Wars treasure trove that anyone would like to get their hands on!
|Daniel Radcliffe||Top – Tom Felton (Malfoy), Bottom Left – Daniel Radcliffe, Bottom Right – J.K Rowling|
|Ewan McGregor||Helen McGrory|
While in the Abbey Road production booth, Maxine asked Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) for his autograph. Since the film had no sound, Anthony decided to say his lines as the droid on the screen. Maxine remarked that this was an incredibly special moment and one she would not forget any time soon – he was clearly the droid she was looking for!!
Anthony Daniels (C-3PO)
One of the stand-out items in Maxine’s collection is her autograph from the great composer John Williams. The picture below shows Maxine asking for the composer’s autograph while on a break from recording one of his scores. She said that he was always busy fiddling with different parts of the music, but was a very kind and generous man.
This wide range of autographs and selfies mirrors Maxine and the orchestra’s amazing capabilities, working with everyone from John Adams and John Williams to Emilie Sande and Emma Thompson. Their work introduces people who ‘don’t like classical music’ to pieces they can relate to like film and pop music. This, in turn, opens a window of intrigue to the listener who may go on to attend other concerts and grow to love the other parts of their repertoire. They are all normal people trying to spread their love of music to as large an audience as possible.