This story originally appeared in the spring/summer 2020 issue of Harker Magazine.
By Vikki Bowes-Mok
Audrey Kwong ’07 was 2 ½ years old when she took her first violin lesson.
“Music has been such a big part of my life from the beginning,” said Kwong.
Kwong attended Harker from grades 6-12 and was very involved in every aspect of performing arts, from orchestra and choir to dance. She was the featured violin soloist when the orchestra traveled to Budapest, Vienna and Prague her sophomore year and France her senior year.
“Audrey was the music gal of her graduating class. She not only sang in Cantilena but was concertmaster of the orchestra and participated in the dance show,” said Susan Nace, upper school choral teacher. “Audrey was a curious and provocative student, and most memorably, she chose an unusual piece for her senior showcase performance. Rather than the usual classical concerto or sonata movement, she went rogue and played a jazzy solo violin version of Gershwin’s ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ from ‘Porgy and Bess,’ complete with choreography! It was an unexpected delight in an otherwise very classical evening of Vivaldi, Haydn, Chopin and Fauré.”
When Kwong wasn’t performing at school, she played in the California Youth Symphony from grades 6-12 and took to the stage with Children’s Musical Theater. She attended Interlochen Center for the Arts one summer during high school and was completely filled up by being surrounded by people who were so passionate about music.
After graduating from Harker, Kwong went on to study violin performance at the University of Southern California, where she practiced violin for six to eight hours every day. Before her senior year, she had an internship with the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, where she broadened her views about a career in music.
Kwong realized that she needed a little more “marination time” before she launched her career and was encouraged to consider an arts management program. After being accepted by a variety of schools, she decided to attend graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University.
“Thank goodness for Harker’s excellent academics, because Carnegie’s arts management program was much more academically rigorous than USC’s music program. It was a complete shift, but I was ready for it,” remembered Kwong with a smile. “Then I interned with the Pittsburgh Symphony as an operations intern and I realized that logistics was my thing.” That realization has guided her career in music ever since. First Kwong interned at the Aspen Music Festival and School, a massive musical festival with 400 public events over eight weeks. The experience, which she calls “the craziest thing I’ll ever do,” confirmed her love of logistics.
She enjoyed it so much that she took a full-time position at the Aspen Festival and stayed for six seasons, where she said she grew up professionally.
Although she loved her time in Aspen, it was small-town living and she was looking for a new challenge when an opportunity opened up in St. Louis. Kwong was excited to become artistic operations manager, helping the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra from behind the scenes. She wears many hats, including coordinating musicians with stage and house managers to keep performances on time and budget, to managing tours and special events.
When she’s not keeping the symphony on track, Kwong plays in two bands, Boxcar and Andrew & the Dolls.
“Playing in these bands feeds a totally different musical side because a lot of what we play is improv, but then I’ll grab napkins and write down the notes so I can play it again,” said Kwong enthusiastically. “Music is about community and finding your people; and I’m able to do this whether I’m playing in bands or working for the symphony, both of which feed my musical passion.”