FeaturedInterviewsIssuesSeptember 2023

Julin Cheung Artist Interview

Julin Cheung, from Seattle, is a Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest fellow at the Curtis Institute of Music. He has won a number of local and international awards, notably first prizes at the NFA High School Soloist Competition and the Severino Gazzelloni Flute Competition. Julin was recognized as a Jr. Rising Star at the 30th Anniversary Galway Flute Festival and was a guest artist at the 13th Slovenian Flute Festival, he has soloed with professional orchestras and performed in recitals around the world.

Can you give us 5 career highlights?

This summer I was very fortunate to be a part of the 10th Year Anniversary of Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. It was an absolutely exhilarating yet exhausting experience to go on tour in North America and play eight concerts in just over two weeks. I learned so much from my peers and this experience solidified my goal to one day play in a professional orchestra.  

I have been very fortunate to perform Cécile Chaminade’s Concertino and Carl Nielsen’s Flute Concerto with the Seattle Symphony. A big highlight was playing a flute duet version of the scherzo from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night's Dream as an encore with my former teacher and principal flute of the Seattle Symphony, Demarre McGill.

I played my first full recital at the 13th Slovenian Flute Festival where I was invited as a guest artist. It was an all-American program, and it required the most thorough preparation I have ever had to do.

Back in the Fall of 2018, I traveled with my parents to Italy to compete in the Severino Gazzelloni Flute Competition. It was my first time competing internationally, and I was extremely nervous to compete against candidates from all over the world. Each of the three rounds was filled with excitement and anxiety, and I was extremely honored and humbled to win the 1st prize and a handmade Briccialdi flute.

In late-February of 2022, I was called in to be a last minute substitute principal for a Curtis Opera Theater production of Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, and so began the most fun, chaotic, and terrifying four performances I have ever been a part of. In order to accommodate a harpsichord in the pit, the woodwinds were all put in a space barely larger than a queen-size bed. There were many instances of getting completely lost in the vast expanse of rests and missing entrances. At some point, we started taking turns falling asleep and we had to wake each other up. The most tricky part was trying to add ornamentation without the conductor noticing. 

How about 3 pivotal moments that were essential to creating the artist that you've become?

I still distinctly remember my first rehearsal in the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra; at that time I was nine and playing the flute sometimes felt like a chore, but after having a blast playing in sync with a hundred other musicians, I discovered the thrill of being a part of something much bigger than myself. 

When I was just a beginner, I participated in a masterclass with Donna Shin, professor of flute at the University of Washington. I expected the masterclass to focus on fundamentals, but Dr. Shin immediately shifted to exploring musicality and storytelling. She showed how the flute can express every emotion and how the performer is in charge of channeling those emotions to the audience. Professor Shin was also the first to tell me about the Curtis Institute of Music, the only conservatory in the US that accepts students before they graduate high school.

I was very fortunate to be invited by Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway to participate in the Galway Flute Festival in Weggis, Switzerland in 2016. Attending the festival was an incredible experience, and playing for Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway was nerve-wracking yet utterly amazing. It was endlessly educational to receive their guidance on my flute technique and musicality. This was my first time being surrounded by so many flutists - I made friendships that I will cherish forever and came home with a long list of new repertoire to explore. 

What do you like best about performing?

When performing, I love to take risks and keep the audience on edge. I also like to embrace performance anxiety as it makes me more emotionally vulnerable which helps to create a more dynamic performance. It makes it easier to express ideas and emotions when they are genuine and not rehearsed. My goal is to captivate the audience through the sheer power of music rather than technical prowess.  

What does your schedule look like for the next 6 months?  

I am really excited that our first orchestra concert at Curtis this year is an all-Strauss program conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. I am especially thrilled that one of the pieces in the program is the Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome. The story behind Salome is rather gruesome, and the orchestral effects that Strauss uses to convey it are intriguing and unconventional. I am looking forward to exploring those sounds.

I am looking forward to being a part of the Curtis Winds and Strings tour with Erin Keefe and Osmo Vänskä, starting in late November. Tour stops will include Philadelphia, New York City, West Palm Beach, Corpus Christi, Wichita Falls, and Brevard. I am really excited to play Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D Major, Schulhoff’s Concertino, and a septet arrangement of Sibelius’s En Saga side-by-side with esteemed Curtis faculty. 

Lastly, on a different note, I am not looking forward to getting my wisdom teeth removed sometime this semester, but I hope to recover quickly and get back to the flute as soon as possible. 

What has been your personal greatest challenge?

During my first year at Curtis, I had to start wearing braces. It was quite disheartening when I tried to play with them for the first time, I was not able to produce any sound in the low register and everything felt very uncomfortable and strange. Every day felt like coming back to a completely new set of lips. I was forced to rethink many concepts about the flute embouchure and had to spend a lot of time working on long tones and other fundamentals. I was so excited to finally get my braces off in January after having them on for almost two years. Although I still feel a little unstable with my tone, I am really enjoying the process of building back my sound. 

Who were/are your music mentors?  and what did you learn from them?

I have been very fortunate to study with many incredible musicians, and I would not be anywhere without their tremendous support and guidance.

In Seattle, I studied with Demarre McGill, Zart Dombourian-Eby, Jeffrey Barker, and Mary MacRae. They taught me everything about the fundamentals and beyond - tone quality, building technique, expanding breath support, and most importantly playing with musicality and expression.

At Curtis, I am so grateful for my teacher Jeffrey Khaner, who encourages self-discovery and promotes emotional and musical growth. Woodwind faculty Daniel Matsukawa and Michael Rusinek have taught me invaluable ensemble skills and the importance of orchestral etiquette. I am also incredibly thankful to my music theory and composition teacher Dr. Ke-Chia Chen for teaching me the mechanics behind music and showing me how to elevate my performance through the composer’s perspective. 

Can you give us 5 quirky, secret, fun, (don't think too much about this) hobbies or passions?


  • A few years ago I dug out an old DSLR camera from my dad’s closet and I love taking photos with it. Currently saving up for a new camera!
  • I really enjoy being out in the mountains, hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. 
  • Philadelphia has a really diverse culinary scene and I love exploring the different parts of town to find some delicious cheap eats.
  • I like to read up on tech and follow new releases of electronics and gadgets.
  • Who doesn’t like to travel!

What 3 things would you offer as advice for a young flutist?

  • Listen to as many different flutists as you can, each one brings a unique voice and perspective that you can learn from.
  • It is easy to forget why music is impactful when we are always locked in a practice room, get out and join the audience when you feel the need for inspiration. It is impossible for your audience to enjoy your music if you do not enjoy it yourself.
  • Always challenge your musical comfort zone. The most valuable lessons come from taking risks.

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