Emma Halnan, flautist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I don’t remember a point when I decided to pursue a career in music; it has always felt like the thing I was meant to do. I feel very lucky that this seemed so obvious to me.

Achieving this, however, was less straight forward – I feel extremely lucky to have had many wonderful people in my life who have helped me achieve my dreams. Firstly my parents; my parents are not
professional musicians, but they have always loved music. They have always been incredibly supportive of me, without being pushy; there is no chance I would have achieved the things I have without their support. I have also had a number of wonderful flute teachers, including Debbie Smith (my first teacher), Clare Southworth (after a life-changing week at Woldingham Flute Summer School), Anna Pope (Purcell School), William Bennett, Kate Hill (both Royal Academy of Music) and Robert Winn. All of these people have been hugely influential, and I am so grateful to them for all of their invaluable help and advice.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

One of the greatest challenges of being a freelance musician is finding a balance between everything; performing, teaching, practising, admin, and of course life outside of music. Striking the perfect balance often feels like an impossible feat!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am proud of this recording of a live performance of Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto with Anne Denholm and the London Mozart Players:

I am also particularly proud of my recording of William Alwyn’s Naiades for flute and harp (with harpist Heather Wrighton), which features on our 2021 release “Crépuscule” for EM Records:

Going back further in time, I am still very proud of my performances for BBC Young Musician 2010, especially the concerto, as it was one of the first times I had performed one…! There are things I would love to teach my former self now, but given how little experience I had at the time I am so proud of how I coped with that competition.

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

That’s an extremely difficult question! I’m not sure I can offer a straight answer. I enjoy playing so many different types of music, from early music on baroque flute, to new pieces which have been written for me. I strive to perform all works with my heart and soul, but I suppose my best performances are of pieces which I particularly love, working alongside fabulous musicians. I’m not sure I can narrow it down to a specific genre.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I enjoy walking, particularly in the Lake District; Lakeland fells never fail to be extremely inspiring! I also recently joined an adult ballet class, which is wonderful! I danced from around age 5 to my mid-teens, when the class clashed with youth orchestra rehearsal; I’ve always missed it, so it’s great to be back. I love reading too, and cooking. All of these things re-charge me, and enable me to give my best on stage.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I don’t have a specific method for this. I absolutely love researching repertoire, and putting together interesting programmes. I have many lists of pieces, which I filter through to come up with programmes to suit both me/my ensembles and the promoters I am working for.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Any warm venue!

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

Alongside my performing career, I am passionate about teaching the flute. I have students of all ages and abilities; some go on to study music at a high level with a view to joining the profession, but for many others flute will always be their hobby. I try to instil in every student a life-long love of music, so that they will hopefully grow up to play in amateur ensembles, and attend lots of concerts. So I suppose my first answer is education; young people are the future audiences, so the more of them we can get excited about classical music the better.

I also feel that concerts at the moment often tend to be either “serious” concerts, or “popular” concerts; perhaps amalgamating the two sometimes might draw in some new audiences. For example, instead of just a “film music concert”, how about a symphony in the first half, and a film suite in the second half? People would come for the film music, but be astonished by how much they enjoyed the Symphony?

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’s difficult to pin down one performance, but I’ll try! One particularly memorable performance was at the end of a six week tour with EUYO [European Youth Orchestra], with whom I played principal flute. Our last concert was in Amsterdam, but we got stuck in Vienna airport the day before. After a whole day of waiting around, we finally got sent to a hotel; we got a few hours sleep before taking the first flight from Vienna to Amsterdam, where we were taken directly to the Concertgebouw. On almost no sleep, we played Bruckner’s Symphony no.7 with Bernard Haitink conducting. It was an incredible end to the tour, and an experience I will never forget. I was delighted to discover that there is a video of this

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

Practise, practise, practise. I am so grateful for the hours and hours of practice that I put in growing up; it makes life so much easier later on. Do make sure it is high-quality, intelligent practice too; I’m always discussing this with students. Make sure you have a brilliant teacher who you get on well with. Search for as many opportunities to perform as possible, both as a soloist and in ensembles.

Listen to as many recordings as you can, of all different instrumentalists and orchestras. Keep enjoying yourself; music is a very tough profession, and it is so important not to lose sight of what drew you to it in the first place.

What is your most treasured possession?

I don’t know whether he counts as a possession, but… my gorgeous ragdoll cat Ziggy. Also, even though it’s clichéd, my flute!

What is your present state of mind?

I’m really enjoying being busy again after being in Covid lockdowns for such a long time… I am also in the process of buying a house, with a music room! I feel like I’m at a bit of a crossroads, and am very excited for what the future holds.

Emma Halnan premieres David Matthews’ Dances for Emma, written especially for her, at this year’s Hertfordshire Festival of Music which runs from 2-11 June. Details here

Emma Halnan first came to prominence as the woodwind category winner of BBC Young Musician 2010. In the grand final, she broadcast Reinecke’s flute concerto with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales live on BBC television and radio. Since then, she has gone on to perform at major venues worldwide; UK venues include Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall and St John’s Smith Square. She has performed live on BBC Radio 3’s “In Tune” on multiple occasions, as well as being broadcast on BBC Radio 2’s “Friday Night is Music Night” as soloist with the BBC Concert Orchestra. Emma has also appeared as concerto soloist with orchestras such as the European Union Chamber Orchestra and the Welsh Sinfonia. Her 2018 diary included two performances of Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto with the London Mozart Players and royal harpist Anne Denholm.

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