Editor, McLerran Journal
Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX
Gareth McLearnon, originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, is an internationally renowned flutist, composer, arranger, and educator. He is an International Artist Ambassador with Concordia Foundation and the European Artist-in-Residence for Wm. S. Haynes Co., as well as a Haynes Artist and MicroCork endorsee. McLearnon spends his time traveling to teach masterclasses, playing professionally as a soloist, recording artist, and for several ensembles around the world, and composes and arranges his own works for flute in what spare time he finds. McLearnon has been awarded the Ian Fleming Award from the Musicians Benevolent Fund (2003) and a Countess of Munster Musical Trust Award (2003). He is currently based out of London with his wife, also a flutist, Abigail Burrows.
About the decision to become a musician, McLearnon shared that he has always found the sound of a flute appealing and appreciated being exposed to the music of famous flutist Sir James Galway from an early age. As a young child, McLearnon enjoyed playing with a penny whistle and picking out tiny melodies on any piano he could find. By age ten, his grandfather had purchased him a flute and his parents enrolled him in private lessons. McLearnon shared that one of his first and fondest musical memories as a beginning musician was teaching himself the Belfast Hornpipe from listening to the Galway recording.
In his teenage years, McLearnon began trying his hand at arranging music and started accepting offers to perform with professional orchestras, thanks to the support of his private lessons teacher Colin Fleming, who was the principal flutist for the Ulster Orchestra and invited then seventeen-year-old McLearnon to participate in a few performances “as part of his teaching method.” Fleming, McLearnon shared, “was probably the most dedicated teacher I’ve ever had” and would generously devote many hours in a day to instructing him personally. Following these lessons, McLearnon attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London (1999-2003) and accepted positions with London’s West End theaters and the Southbank Sinfonia (2005). It was also during his first years in London when Sir James Galway invited him to participate in the recording process of Songs for Alexander. McLearnon, then only about twenty years old, had at that point known Galway for about a decade and served as his orchestral librarian for multiple years. The track in question was supposed to be double tracked (Galway would need to record two separate flute parts), but at the last minute, he looked at McLearnon and asked, “Have you got your flute with you?” Reminiscing fondly about this time in his career, McLearnon shared that “one of the great privileges of [his] life was to have spent so much time with [Galway] and him to have such an impact on [his] life.” In December 2004, in celebration of his friend and mentor Sir James Galway’s sixty-fifth birthday, McLearnon arranged an updated version of the piece that started it all, The Belfast Hornpipe for Penny Whistle with piano accompaniment, and was delighted when Galway decided to perform the piece on Network TV in a Live from Lincoln Center broadcast. McLearnon was happy to contribute to the celebration, saying “it all sort of came full circle.”
In his professional performance career, McLearnon has engaged in “hundreds of performances across four continents” and currently travels at least 24 weeks out of each year. He has been the Principal Flute of the London-based Heritage Orchestra since 2009 and, as a result, has participated in concerts across Europe and the Middle East. McLearnon also regularly collaborates on concerts and recording sessions with the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Contemporary Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, the English Session Orchestra, and the Orchestra of St. John’s. In addition to live performances, McLearnon spends a significant portion of his time contributing to recording sessions as a soloist, chamber musician, orchestral musician, and for television and movie soundtracks. He has made recordings in Abbey Road, Air Studios, Angel, Eastcote, Kore, Fish Market, and Retreat Studios.
McLearnon has been actively composing and arranging works for flute and piano since about age twelve, but he acknowledges that the majority of his composing took place after he had begun studying with Professor Ian Clarke at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Professor Clarke is widely regarded as the leading performer/composers in the contemporary flute world. It was then, in his late twenties, that McLearnon began to arrange his own larger works for flute ensembles/orchestras and began to really dig into doing more frequent flute masterclasses around the world. “I don’t necessarily write melodies or things that are tuneful,” he shares, “but I do collect beautiful chords.” McLearnon’s Flute Ensemble music initially came out of necessity; for the purposes of workshops, or perhaps when he has come across a work or arrangement that he believed should exist for flute or flute ensemble. A few pieces from this time period include The Flutewise Theme (2011), Single Yellow Line (2013), and Lamasery Jigsaw (2015). McLearnon’s works have been performed in the Royal Albert Hall (London), Cadogan Hall (London), The Rachmaninoff Hall (Moscow), and Concertgebouw (Amsterdam). His Irish heritage proved to be a source of inspiration in his 2008 book: ‘Round Ireland With a Flute. Recently, McLearnon has completed a flute orchestra piece, Cosmic Dawn (2017), which he refers to as his “most mature work.” The work was premiered at the 2017 Australian Flute Festival in Brisbane and includes parts for four flutes, two alto flutes, and at least one bass flute. The approximately five-minute piece is made up of two contrasting sections; a “moody, primordial beginning” that highlights the lower flute voices, and an energetic ending which McLearnon describes as “without a doubt, the richest and most complex flute writing I’ve undertaken to date.” He will be continuing the tradition of publishing a new work for the Australian Flute Festival, and his newest, as yet unwritten work will be premiered in Sydney in July of 2019. About the decision to compose, McLearnon shared that “to send your music out into the world and let people play it is quite a strange thing” but that he has “really enjoyed making connections within the global flute community.”
As an educator, McLearnon has had the opportunity to reach thousands of flute students across the world. He has been formally employed by the Yuri Bashmet International Music Academy in Samara, Russia since 2013 and has, through this position, accepted numerous offers to perform and administer masterclasses in places like Novosibirsk, Tollyatti, Rostov-on-Don, Yekaterinburg, Zhoukovskiy, Moscow, Yaroslavl, Khabarovsk, Yakutsk, Vidnoye and Kazan. He has also enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with the Moscow Soloists, led by Maestro Yuri Bashmet. Independently, McLearnon has executed masterclasses for Yale University, the Boston Flute Academy, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, The Norweigian Academy of Music, the Swedish Royal College of Music, the Zagreb Academy of Music, the Ljublana Conservatory, Flutewise Academies, The Gnessin School, and Gnessin Academy in Moscow, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and at national conferences and festivals in more than fifteen countries. McLearnon shared that his daily schedule in each of these locations generally consists of landing at the airport early in the morning, teaching small groups of students for a few hours, and performing a concert that evening before flying out to another location. Because he spends such a small amount of time with each flute student, McLearnon tends to focus more on being extremely specific and attempting to correct as many technical issues as possible. “I want to do the maximum amount of good in a short amount of time,” he shares. When asked which major city he has enjoyed visiting the most, he shared that Chicago is easily his favorite city in the world, but that he generally finds his work in Russia to be the most satisfying.
In the future, McLearnon would like to continue to teach and to perform, but hopes to begin moving more towards completing a greater number of recording sessions at home instead of continuing to travel practically full time. He appreciates his wife and colleagues who are enthusiastic about the craft and push him to do more, and is also excited to complete another flute ensemble this summer.
Interview on January 8, 2019.
Editors. (2018). Ian Clarke. Adams Magazine. Flute Centre. Adams Musical Instruments.
McLearnon, Gareth. (2018). Biography. Gareth McLearnon Official Website.