NOT-QUITE-SOLITUDE ON THE 34TH FLOOR Violinist Maxine Kwok on lockdown in the City
2020: a year that at some point felt like the end of live performance for the world of the performing arts, certainly for the foreseeable future. Artists spent months without any form of collaboration, leading to a serious lack of motivation due to the decimation of performance opportunities. Coupled with the stressful change in their financial circumstances a huge percentage of people with professions in the performing arts found themselves completely rudderless.
I myself wandered aimlessly around the Barbican Estate, gazing longingly at the Barbican Centre and feeling empty without the daily power of the music I was so used to soaring through my very being courtesy of my life in the London Symphony Orchestra. Finally after two weeks of lockdown I began practising the violin every day - a wonderfully worthwhile pursuit, of course. and I joked to friends that I was in the best playing shape of my life, but ironically with no one around who could actually appreciate the fruits of my hard work, it felt rather empty at times.The opportunity to create a short film in a collaboration between Culture Mile, Brookfield Properties and the LSO was a wonderful chance to show how much creativity there is within the City, even during such a dark time. During our “meet and greet” Zoom meeting, filmmaker Antonia Luxem explained her vision of a single musician performing alone in the dark, seemingly to no one at first, but as the light begins to shine on the violin, a dancer notices the music and begins to react to it. From that moment my imagination was well and truly captured by this powerful idea of a lone creative voice having the ability to move us through a host of emotions.
After hearing Antonia’s narrative, composer Darren Bloom set about penning an original piece for solo violin that would perfectly draw on all the imagery. He was particularly taken with Antonia’s descriptions of lights being switched on at twilight, thereby illuminating windows in the darkness, and hit upon the use of harmonics so the sounds would pop from the texture like twinkling stars. Darren was able to perfectly capture in his writing the hesitant opening, a solitary voice finding itself again that starts warming up over time and then becomes positively playful as it sees that the music is inspiring ballet dancer Marie Astrid Mence (pictured below) to express herself.
An entirely stark and empty floor at 100 Bishopsgate was the perfect location for Classic Sound to capture the haunting audio that needed to emerge from complete desolate silence. Such a resonant acoustic highlighted the loneliness and hesitancy of the unaccompanied violin and so Darren’s composition Rising was born. Using the space again as we all watched the sun set over the City from the 34th floor, with multiple cameras to create Antonia’s vision, is something I will never forget. As this was an evening close to Bonfire Night there were dazzling fireworks all around our 360 degree panorama, so the wonderful contrast between the feeling of being alone so high up and knowing there was life far below every time we saw sparks flying.
As a City of London resident, I have seen what was once a bustling area full of the noises of life and culture shrink into an eerie shadow of itself. Previously I could walk around the City hearing musicians practising in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, cars zooming by and the general chatter from people spilling out of office buildings or cafes. This beautiful five minute film perfectly encapsulates the loneliness of a performer in lockdown with no audience tentatively making the first steps in rediscovering a voice. There are no words needed to describe the intense gratitude between musician and dancer as they acknowledge each other, for being able to share that music with even just one other person is surely the driving force behind the hard work and dedication the professions demand.
Even though the streets in my beloved City may be quieter as I write, these short films commissioned by Culture Mile, Brookfield and the LSO serve to remind us of the intense bubbling creativity just below the surface, ready to burst forth once the world heals itself. We look towards a time in the near future when people can be performers and audience again, crowded together in the same place, moved by the shared experiences. Surely this time after the relative silence we’ll have an even greater appreciation of all that the arts have to offer.
Watch Rising here on YouTube