What we like about living in the Barbican – Maxine Kwok

LSO first violinist Maxine Kwok Adams on why she lives in the Barbican and what she really likes about the complex and what life’s like playing for one of the world’s top orchestras.

Why the Barbican? That’s the question that tends to follow when I tell people I am a violinist living in the heart of the City. When they hear I have a foil- time job in the London Symphony Orchestra and that we play over fifty concerts a year in the Barbican concert hall then it all starts to make sense.
Born in the UK, I moved to London when I won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music, a place I always wanted to attend as my mother had studied piano and harp there. Whilst a student I had the good fortune of winning a coveted place on the LSO String Experience Scheme so I began rehearsing with the orchestra, meeting the people and most importantly, playing in LSO concerts! I became a permanent member of the 1st violins in 2001 and a few years later became the 1st violin mentor for the scheme so I feel like I am giving something back by encouraging the young people at music colleges now.
I did find commuting into the City in the morning quite stressful carrying my violin. So a couple of years later 1 made the move and now live “above the shop” as it were and I never looked back! On a typical concert day, we rehearse from 10-lpm and I can be home a couple of minutes later for lunch, and in the summer I like to lie in the Barbican gardens which is very relaxing before a concert. The area has changed so much since I moved here and I love wandering down Whitecross Street to buy food from the stalls and I force myself to The CityPoint Club to row away the typical violinist aches and pains!

That said, there isn’t a typical week in the LSO schedule. In addition to the 50 concerts we play at the Barbican, we play 80 elsewhere, usually a couple at the RAH Proms during the Summer and then the rest on tour, so a suitcase to hand is essential! One year I was on tour for 100 days so it’s great that I don’t mind flying and my husband can come with me if it’s an interesting place to visit. I have been to so many places that I would not have had the opportunity to go to thanks to the LSO. A trip two years ago to Abu Dhabi and Mumbai was a real eye opener for the orchestra in particular. I especially love any tours to the Far East and the USA as it usually means I can stop in HK and see relatives. We have residencies in NY and Paris so I always make time for some shopping!


A good proportion of the week will find us recording, most notably the famous Abbey Road studios. The LSO is particularly known for famous film scores and even if you think you have never heard the LSO, if you are a movie goer- you definitely will have! In the 11 years I have been playing with the LSO, I have played on over 45 film soundtracks ranging from Star Wars, to the Queen, to my favourite film franchise, Harry Potter. Film recordings mean long days in sun-deprived underground studios but it is fun to see the film first and be part of the fascinating process. It also means I have a very full autograph book to look back on when I retire. I was very honoured to be asked by Tom Hoover two years ago to contribute a chapter to his book “Soundtrack Nation” which focusing on professionals in all branches of the film recording industry.

Recordings can be as diverse as TV jingles, backing a JLo or Paul McCartney album, the list is endless, you never really know until you arrive and you see the music! Sometimes it’s still warm to the touch being literally hot off the press! There’s a great deal of secrecy surrounding many of our recordings so I always have to remember not to go posting on Facebook or Twitter about my day! We are currently involved in something that has been surrounded in secrecy happening this Summer (not hard to guess!) but which will have been seen by the time this issue goes to press!

I don’t have much time outside the normal LSO schedule but from time to time things crop up. The LSO was actively involved in the massive Google project known as the Youtube symphony orchestra. I was asked to record two online masterclasses to help the participants submit auditions. Something I baulked at when initially asked as I have no experience in teaching. But I enjoyed the experience and had lots of positive feedback from violinists all round the world.
During the Summer break from the LSO, my husband will be translating in the Olympics whilst I represent the LSO at the Asia Philharmonic Orchestra based in Seoul. A chance to see friends from all over the world uniting under one Asian orchestra. Now where did I leave my suitcase??