Longtime Pre-College faculty member Laura Flax (Pre-College '70; BM '74, MM '75, clarinet), 64, died on March 12 after a hard-fought battle with cancer.
Born July 27, 1952, in Long Beach, N.Y., she started playing the clarinet in band class and soon found it to be a perfect fit as she felt its sound to be as close to a human voice as an instrument can be. Although her parents were avid music lovers, they discouraged her from pursuing a career in music, suggesting she work as a secretary until she could find a husband. She began her studies at Juilliard at 16, in Pre-College, and while she was here became incredibly dedicated to new and contemporary music, a passion that continued throughout her career.
After graduating, Flax spent 20 years as a member of the Da Capo Chamber Players, during which time she played more than 100 premieres, including works by Joan Tower, Shulamit Ran, Philip Glass (Diploma '60, MS '62, composition), and Elliott Carter (Juilliard faculty 1966–84). Flax was also a trailblazer for women clarinetists in a field dominated by men. In 1984, she became the first female clarinetist of the New York City Opera Orchestra; five years later she was named principal clarinetist, a position she held for 28 years. She was also the first female chairperson of the musicians committee, a role about which she was incredibly passionate, and held principal positions with the American Symphony and Bard Music Festival orchestras. She was a frequent guest with the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, and Orpheus Chamber as well as with the Orchestra of St. Luke's; she was also a soloist with the Jerusalem Symphony, Bard Music Festival Orchestra, American Symphony Orchestra, and the Puerto Rico Symphony. A devoted teacher, she joined the Pre-College faculty in 1989 and also taught for many years at the Bard College Conservatory of Music.
She is survived by her twin daughters, Molly and Fanny Wyrick-Flax, both Pre-College graduates; her sisters, Freda and Alice; and beloved cats, Charley and Shaka.
Donations in her honor can be made payable to Juilliard for the Laura Flax Memorial Scholarship in Clarinet in the Pre-College Division and sent to the school or made at juilliard.edu/giving or by calling (212) 799-5000, ext. 692. Family, friends, and colleagues are planning a celebration of her life and work; details will be announced on her Facebook page.