Young (and old) brilliance...

By Maxine Kwok Adams  -  26 June 2016


Today is my dear friend Miho's birthday. We've been friends for an indeterminate number of years despite her move to Japan when we were 18. A few years ago a photo surfaced which my dad took of us waving to our parents as we headed off to Eastbourne from Kings Cross station on what was Miho's first National Children's Orchestra course. We didn't know each other at that point - Miho remembers sitting behind me and examining my hair for split ends (of which there were many..) on that journey - but our friendship is now well into its fourth decade. 

NCO was a pivotal time for me. I grew up within the Bromley Youth Music Trust which provided the most amazing term-time musical education so when the opportunity came to join the NCO in the holidays I grabbed the opportunity, albeit with nervous hands. It took me perhaps one day into the course to realise that I wanted to be in an orchestra for the rest of my life.

Maxine Kwok-Adams and Freya Barker having fun at the Classic FM studios

 Meeting like-minded young people from all areas of the UK and discovering great music, the work, rest and play camaraderie was just heaven for me. I've kept one eye on the progress on NCO over the years and was very privileged to see the founder Vivienne Price on a number of occasions, the last being at a NCO concert at the Barbican not long before her passing. I was struck by the amazing standard of music making - if I closed my eyes I couldn't believe these instrumentalists were under fifteen years old. The NCO orchestras, it's an understatement to say, go from strength to strength every year. It's no wonder a high percentage continue their high standard of orchestral playing by successfully moving onto the National Youth Orchestra

Therefore when earlier in the year I was contacted by the NCO to particulate in a series of Classic FM interviews with five other alumni - Dame Evelyn Glennie, Daniel Harding and three winners of BBC Young Musician Competition, Nicola Benedetti, Guy Johnston and Martin Bartlett, I felt somewhat daunted to be in such illustrious company but I didn't hesitate to say yes. We were all paired with a current NCO musician playing the same instrument as we did in our NCO time. Archie Kneeshaw (percussion), Christie Smith (trumpet), Ella Fraser (violin), Aris Sabetai (cello) and Isabella Worthington (bassoon).

So on a rather rainy muggy day I donned my most musically-inspired outfit and excitedly headed to Classic FM HQ in Leicester Square to meet talented Freya Barker, a violinist currently playing in the NCO's Main Orchestra. (She also plays numerous saxophones, the piano and she sings!) What first struck me was how mature and well spoken fourteen-year olds are now. I certainly wouldn't have been able to string two words together in a professional capacity at that age. Freya and I had brought our violins with us having had a last minute request from Classic FM to perhaps play something. Freya had her dad in tow who acted superbly as violin case and music stand sherpa! I had dug out my copy of the Bach double concerto that morning which was rather scarily dated 1989 in my childish handwriting, a year that must have seemed like the Dark Ages to Freya, but in the end it was decided a filmed ,"What's in your violin case?" feature might be more fun for fans of Classic FM's Facebook page.


After an epic fail (the Classic FM banner landed on my head thirty seconds into starting the interview.. Sorry Will, some things are too good to omit!) we grabbed the microphones and Freya began with her interesting and informative questions for me. In turn I was able to ask her questions, notably how the players keep in touch these days, no more letter writing and waiting anxiously by the front door for a reply I'm thinking in this digital age!


I won't give away any of the answers seeing as the interviews will be broadcast as part of the NCO #Youngbrilliance week on Classic FM (27th June) so please do tune in to hear fantastically played music and some fun and interesting interviews with some insights into the lives of alumni whose lives were forever changed by their experiences in NCO. 

About Maxine Kwok Adams

Fashion correspondent and violinist of the London Symphony Orchestra

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