CLASSICAL guitar virtuoso Julian Bream is a man dedicated to his art. ''I don't do much relaxing,'' he said. ''When I'm not giving a recital I practise. It takes a lifetime and a half to master the classical guitar.'' It is this sort of single-mindedness that has helped Bream gain worldwide critical acclaim as well as six Grammys and Edison awards. Bream said he was virtually self-taught. ''When I began playing in England, there wasn't anyone who could teach. My father played a little bit and I picked it up from him. I had a few lessons which turned out to be rather defective at 12 [years old]. That was the only time. It wasn't a particularly successful teacher. I learned mainly by listening to Andres Segovia and that was a great inspiration. And also the gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.'' In the 1950s he played electric guitar in a jazz band two nights a week, something which ''helped to free myself from the strait-jacket of written out music . Whatever it is, music should sound spontaneous, I've derived a great deal of pleasure from playing jazz and having the knowledge of that spontaneity.'' Bream has influenced many classical guitarists. Departing from the traditional right-hand technique, his right hand and forearm assume a relatively straight position. ''This enables me to freely move between the fingerboard and the bridge and bring out the guitar's many colours,'' he said. At his San Francisco Conservatory master class, Bream discussed his approach to playing Bach. ''When I was younger, I'd play high on the neck, but as I've got older, I tend to use the lower positions and open strings. The notes tend to speak for themselves that way. If the music creeps up, then I creep up the neck. It's a bit less impressive, butwe don't want to impress people with techniques - we want to impress them with the music.'' Bream's tireless efforts to expand the guitar repertoire have done much to elevate the status of the classical guitar. In this respect many see Bream as the most important guitarist of this century. He will be giving one recital in Hongkong before going on to play in Taipei, Korea, Japan and the US. His Hongkong recital includes pieces by Frescobaldi, Visee, Bach, Regondi, Turina, Brouwer and Albeniz. ''I generally choose what I would like to play,'' he said, ''and hopefully the audience will like it, too.'' This year EMI is releasing three compact discs of Bream's guitar playing, including a Rodrigo concerto, Toru Takemitsu's Towards the Edge of Dreams, a Bach recital and a collection of works by 20th century composers. Julian Bream performs at 8 pm on Tuesday, March 9, at the City Hall Concert Hall. Tickets are $50, $100 and $160 (half price for students and senior citizens).