Obituary: David Nicholson: vFather of "golden era of flute" in Scotland

David Nicholson, Father of "golden era of flute" in Scotland. Born: 18 November, 1938, in Newcastle upon Tyne. Died: 31 October, 2010, in Auchtermuchty, Fife, aged 71.

DAVID Nicholson was one of Britain's most-respected flautists and flute teachers. Not only did he have a major influence on Scotland's musical scene for almost half a century but his former pupils now play in orchestras around the world.

Born south of the Border, he spent the latter two-thirds of his life in Scotland, where he was a driving force in founding the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) in 1974 and served as its "principal flute" from then until his retirement in 2000.

Nicholson played flute, often solo, on more than 100 of the SCO's recordings - from Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart to contemporary composers - helping the orchestra gain an international reputation and encouraging a growth in small chamber orchestras - usually just woodwind and strings - around the world.

He was believed to have been the first professional woodwind player in Edinburgh and he was a music professor at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) in Glasgow for more than 40 years. To him, his colleagues and students noted, playing and teaching were inextricably intertwined.

Although he was a young music student in London along with his Belfast-born contemporary James (now Sir James) Galway, and their later studies followed similar paths, Nicholson found greater pleasure in teaching the flute than in seeking the sort of solo fame that came to his friend. Both men studied in the Paris Conservatoire under the two great French flute maestros Jean-Pierre Rampal - "the Man with the Golden Flute," credited with returning the instrument to a popularity it had not held since the 18th century - and Marcel Moyse.

Rampal was wont to tell Nicholson, Galway and his other pupils: "For me, the flute is really the sound of humanity, the sound of man flowing, completely free from his body, almost without an intermediary." Nicholson and Galway would go on to play concertos together and jointly held a "Flute Fest" in Vancouver in 2005, but, to the former, teaching remained the priority.

Like Sir James, Nicholson continued to give flute master classes around the world, latterly in Edinburgh, at the North East of Scotland Music School in Aberdeen and, after his retirement, from his home in Auchtermuchty, where young would-be flautists would show up and the flute was often the only common language between them and their teacher. "David had the most beautiful sound and could play with the utmost refinement, delicacy and sensitivity," according to one of his first pupils, Sheena Gordon, a former "sub principal flute" to him in the SCO and now well-known in her own right as his successor as flute teacher at the RSAMD.

"His awareness of minute subtleties and detail was acute.When he played, you just had to listen to him. To his pupils, his love of the flute and enthusiasm for all things musical and artistic was inspirational and opened up a world of sound, colours and harmony most of us had no idea existed.

"He had a deep personal and musical relationship with his students and helped many of us establish our careers. His interest in his pupils extended beyond the musical, when domestic or financial problems arose, and he would offer support, both practical and emotional. David produced a golden era of flute playing in Scotland and the proportion of his students who went on to succeed in the profession was exceptional."

David Nicholson was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on 18 November, 1938, and attended the city's Royal Grammar School before moving south to spend three years with the band of the Royal Artillery in Woolwich, London. His musical ability won him a place to study flute at the renowned Guildhall School of Music and Drama, at the time between Fleet Street and the River Thames (but since moved to the Barbican arts complex).

It was there that he met Galway, who was a year younger, and both studied under the great teacher Geoffrey Gilbert. It was also at the Guildhall that Nicholson met his future wife Jo, who was studying singing.

In 1963, when he was 24, Edinburgh University music professor Sidney Newman recognised Nicholson's talent and shrewdly invited him to Scotland - to enhance the nation's music scene - where he would spend the rest of his life. Eager to push the flute as an instrument to be taken seriously, he first formed what he called the "Bernicia Ensemble", usually with Audrey Innes on harpsichord, Daphne Godson on violin, David Wiggins on cello and an occasional oboe, playing baroque music that had rarely before been heard.

Later, he founded the Edinburgh-based quintet The Amphion, which included more modern works and soon performed around the UK and on regular BBC radio broadcasts. While still with the Amphion, Nicholson also toured West Germany with Scottish Opera, playing Benjamin Britten's comic chamber opera Albert Herring.

So impressed was Peter Hemmings, general manager of Scottish Opera, the national opera company, that he asked Nicholson to try to put together "a Scottish orchestra of Rossini/Mozart proportions, which could provide income for players moving to Scotland… avoiding the cost of the whole Scottish National Orchestra for small-scale operas". Thus was the Scottish Chamber Orchestra born, giving its first concert in Glasgow's City Hall in 1974 with Nicholson as principal flute.

In 1997, Nicholson founded the Edinburgh Flute Course and directed it until his retirement.

"What was special about David was his ability to pass on his musicianship to his pupils," said one of his later students, Catriona Crosby. "He always knew how to get the best out of whomever he was teaching.It was not so much that he had a special, specific technique; more an innate ability in musical communication in both his teaching and playing."

Among his other students were the popular all-female Scottish Flute Trio.

Nicholson's most recent recordings included Music from the North Lands, on which he performed with harpist Eluned Pierce and which included works of contemporary composers, both Scottish and foreign.

David Nicholson is survived by his wife Jo, whom he married in 1966, their son Tim, daughter Rachel and a new grandson, Archie, who brought him great pleasure during his last months.