Meet Austen Wu, Philharmonic Orchestra Soloist

In anticipation of Philharmonic Orchestra’s spring concert on May 20, Social Media Team member Laney Kang sat down with Austen Wu, who won Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2022 Concerto Competition and will be the featured student soloist at the performance. Austen spoke about soloing with the orchestra for the very first time, what he’s learned over his six years in CYSO, and advice to young people thinking of picking up an instrument. Read on for the full interview!

Austen Wu will perform Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy at Philharmonic Orchestra’s May 20 concert.

Please tell us about yourself! How long have you been playing the violin and how long have you been a member of CYSO?

My name is Austen Wu. I am 14 years old, I have played the violin for almost nine years, and I have played with CYSO since 2018.

Which solo piece are you performing with PO?

I won the Philharmonic Orchestra Concerto Competition in early 2022. I am performing the Introduction and first movement of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy.

What do you like about that piece?

I like the mysterious feel of the Introduction; it paints an eerie scene as the soloist begins the story. I imagine the horns in the beginning as a solemn scene as they pave the way for the solo violin. As the piece continues into the first movement, flowing melodies from the harps and the soaring string melodies help guide the listener—and the soloist—to a back-and-forth dialogue between the soloist and various instrument groups. I also love the resolved ending as it feels peaceful and at rest, with the horns ending on a much more grand harmony than the beginning.

How did it feel to find out that you won the Philharmonic Orchestra Concerto Competition?

I was ecstatic when I learned that I had won! I was (and I am still) a little nervous as well, as I have never soloed with an orchestra before.

How have you been preparing for your upcoming solo performance?

When preparing for this concert, I worked with a pianist who played the orchestral piano reduction. I also studied the score religiously. I learned about the relationship between the soloist and the conductor versus the relationship between the conductor and the orchestra. It may be easier to queue and coordinate dynamics and articulation with one person on the piano, but it is much harder to coordinate these different musical aspects with exponentially more people. Nevertheless, I will never forget the feeling of soloing with an orchestra.

What is your favorite part about playing the violin?

My favorite part about the violin is its ability to convey different colors and emotions with only four strings. I like its brighter and more vibrant sound, as I am an extrovert, and the violin suits my personality well.

How has being in CYSO influenced your musical development?

Being with CYSO since I was eight, I have learned a lot about what it means to be an orchestral musician. Not only that, but CYSO has also taught me lessons that apply outside the world outside of music. Being an orchestral musician requires discipline and dedication. My concentration and spatial awareness have greatly improved over these past years as I have learned to listen to other instrument groups and look at the conductor more. Showing up to a two-and-a-half-hour rehearsal on a Sunday requires serious dedication as well. I find that if I enjoy the music we make as an orchestra, it makes the time fly by way faster.

What is your favorite CYSO memory?

My favorite CYSO memory is when I took a day off from school to perform Classical Kids LIVE!’s Tchaikovsky Discovers America with CYSO at the Southshore Cultural Center. There was a small sandy beach next to the cultural center, and during our lunch break, my friends and I ate lunch, still in our concert attire from head to toe, on rocks next to the beach. I remember us skipping stones and finding neat shells the whole time, and not actually eating much. That memory will stay with me for a long time.

Do you have any advice for other young people wanting to play an instrument?

My advice for young people who want to play an instrument is: it’s worth it. Learning an instrument is teaching yourself a skill that allows you to convey emotion your emotions without words; it’s something that will be with you your whole life. It can be a friend whom you can vent all your problems to. It is also a tool to express yourself. All in all, it’s never too late to start!

Be sure to get your tickets for Philharmonic Orchestra and Accelerando String’s Spring Performance on May 20 and hear Austen in action!


Laney KangLaney Kang is a violinist in CYSO’s Philharmonic Orchestra and a member of the CYSO Social Media Team. This is Laney’s eighth season participating in CYSO. She is a senior at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois. Aside from music, Laney trains and competes in dance.

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