SFCM Sends Woodwind Alumni Across the Country for Symphony Slots
Recent alumni Johnny Wang and Julia Pyke have won roles in the Spokane and North Carolina Symphony for their upcoming seasons.
By Alex Heigl
SFCM grads are continuing their success stories this year with two new ones: Julia Pyke (‘22) will be playing principal flute with the Spokane Symphony, while Johnny Wang (‘21) will be heading to the North Carolina Symphony as acting associate principal/Eb clarinet.
For Wang, the win is an exciting next step for him. He also still remembers when his path was set: “On the first day of wind ensemble in high school, because I was younger, I was put in the back row. At the beginning of class, the band director walked out with an Eb clarinet and said, ‘Who wants to play this?’ and nobody said anything. I don’t know why he did this, but he just looked at me and said, ‘You. You’re going to play this.’ And he handed it to me.” The rest is history.
More recently, Wang heard about the position via his teacher, Principal Clarinet at the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) Carey Bell and submitted a video audition. The Eb clarinet is relatively rare in the orchestra and symphony, and Wang gravitated to that and the bass clarinet because of their unique timbres and how they stick out in ensembles.
His senior year of high school, Wang went to SFS’ performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 and saw Bell play, calling it “transformative."
"It took my breath away,” he added. “Before studying with him, I never had the opportunity to study with musicians of that caliber. He gave me so much.”
“Johnny studied with me for four years as an undergrad,” Bell said of his former student. “He had a curiosity about music that showed itself in every lesson.” (Wang hasn’t been to North Carolina yet, but he might be staying in the region: He was able to advance to the upper rounds of the National Symphony Orchestra auditions at the Kennedy Center this season as well.)
Pyke, a Seattle native, studied under SFS Principal Flutist Tim Day. She has been one of the most visible students featured on SFCM’s social media channels, with her videos on the school’s TikTok page totaling a staggering 2.7 million views and even garnering comments from pop star (and flutist) Lizzo!
@sfconservmusic The sublime flute solo from Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. @juliapykeflute #flute #flutetok #classicalmusic #orchestra #symphony #ravel #flutemusic ♬ SFCM Orchestra Daphnis Flute Solo Julia Pyke - SFCM
“Julia plays with such elegance and finesse: Every element of her playing is in beautiful balance and she really has a musical voice when she plays,” SFCM Music Director Edwin Outwater said. “She also took the initiative to play for me several times while she was a student here and I could really sense her remarkable work ethic. I’m very happy for her—but not surprised!"
Pyke wrote on Facebook that she's looking forward to being back in the Pacific Northwest, adding that she is "so grateful for the kindness, generosity and support of all the mentors I've had along the way, and for my supportive family and friends."