At the age of sixteen Colin Fleming gained a place at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester where he studied under Trevor Wye. In his first year there he won a three-year scholarship to attend the Karajan Akademie in Berlin where his teachers were James Galway and Andreas Blau. As a member of the Akademie he undertook several tours in Germany, gave recitals in Berlin and made recordings for radio. He also participated in masterclasses given by Marcel Moyse, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Geoffrey Gilbert and William Bennett. On completion of his studies he became Principal Flute with the Ulster Orchestra. He maintains an active interest in flute ensembles, arranging, editing and publishing music through Pyramid Music and regularly gives classes and conducts flute groups worldwide.
We caught up with Colin in Weggis to hear about his flute career and connections to the Galway Flute Festival.
What orchestra do you play in?
I play in the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, and have been there for the last 42 years.
How did you get involved with the flute?
My father played the flute and I was given my first flute at age 4. I started lessons at age 8 and a couple years later I joined the band. I realized I wanted to be a flutist when I started the flute; that’s all I really ever wanted to do.
When did you meet Sir James Galway?
After I started playing in the local band, I went to Belfast to have lessons with Billy Dunwoody. He taught Sir James as well, so I took my first flute lesson with Sir James when I was 12. To this day, it’s 50 years since I’ve known Sir James.
When I was 16, I went to the Royal Academy on a 2 year scholarship and studied with Trevor Wye until I was 18, and Sir James suggested I join the Karajan Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic. I studied with Andreas Blau for the remainder of my studies there. I got to play chamber music and with the Berlin Philharmonic while I was there. The Ulster Orchestra invited me back home to play a concerto, and I found out they were looking for a principal flute. I played the Mozart D Major Concerto on the Thursday night, and did the audition for principal flute on Friday morning. After a trial, I got the job. It’s a really great orchestra and great people so I decided to stay and have been there ever since!
What is your life like with the orchestra?
It’s changed greatly. We fulfill the function of BBC Orchestra in Northern Ireland so we do quite a few recording sessions. We do a lot of education outreach. Every Tuesday morning, we go out into different school doing different projects, culminating with a concert at the end. We also work with physically and mentally people and get training on how to work with them.
What has been your favorite orchestral moment?
I’ve never experienced anything close to what I experienced with Karajan and the Berlin Phil.
Do you teach?
I used to teach quite a lot but now I only have two students. I want to teach people who really, really want to learn.
What advice do you have for flutists who wish to embark on a professional career?
Don’t get distracted! The attitude of mind has to be right, and you have to listen as much as possible. And make sure you practice more than the next person.
Keep playing the most beautiful tunes in the whole world: they’re called scales.