The man with the golden flute
What do Bill Clinton, the Queen of Norway, Princess Diana, Pope John Paul II, the Empress of Japan, the Duke of Kent and other kings, princes and presidents in different parts of the world have in common? Apart from their elevated status, all have asked to hear the Irish flautist, James Galway, and he played his flute for all of them - as he did for Queen Elizabeth, who twice honored him with aristocratic titles.
Now that he is here in Israel, "the man with the golden flute" as he is known - and this is not merely a metaphor for the pure sound he produces, or the money he has made from his flute, because Galway actually plays a flute made of gold - will add another name to the list, that of President Shimon Peres who will also enjoy the privilege of hearing him when he hosts Galway at his residence this afternoon.
Between the visit to the president and playing next to the Western Wall, Galway will give a concert with the Israel Camerata Orchestra, conducted by Avner Biron, at the Jerusalem Theater today and on Sunday at Tel Aviv's Performing Arts Center. He will appear as the soloist in Joaquin Rodrigo's "Fantasia para un Gentilhombre", and together with his wife, the flautist Jeanne Galway, in the Concerto for Two Flutes by Domenico Cimarosa.
"We are always together and always play together," says Galway in the lobby of Mishkenot Sha'ananim in Jerusalem where he is being hosted. "It's good because if it weren't for Jeanne, I'd have to come a day earlier and have more rehearsals with the orchestra. This way, I don't have to adapt my style to an unfamiliar flautist."
Without spitting or cursing
Galway's visit also marks the launching of his new disk in Israel - "O'Reilly Street" in which he collaborates with the Cuban Latin jazz ensemble Tiempo Libre. The disc reflects Galway's skill in walking the fine line between classics and light music, between commercial and high-brow. Listening to it explains his extraordinary, rock star-like popularity among millions of people the world over, of all ages and all kinds of musical preferences.
The disc contains one work by Bach adapted to Latin jazz by the group's leader, Jorge Gomes, some Cuban music and the "Jazz Suite" by Claude Bolling, a light piece. "It's never been recorded by one of the major recording companies," says Galway, adding that he always wanted to record it, but not with the original trio rather as a special adaptation. "I found the original version outdated."
Before he met with the Cuban ensemble, "I told them to come the next day at 10, and no drinking, smoking, spitting or cursing," he says. They came and played everything from beginning to end by heart, and perfectly, he adds. With a flute and piano, an electric bass, congas and drums, the suite indeed sounds much better. Galways says they recorded a sample and sent it to Sony. That was in May, and they said they wanted to release the disc in September.
Galway has played with Elton John, Ray Charles, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, Henry Mancini, Steve Wander and the Chieftains. He has starred in soundtracks for box-office hits such as "Lord of the Rings" and TV series ("The Muppets"), and has performed at such events as Nobel Prize awards ceremonies and the G-7 gathering at Buckingham Palace.
But the major part of his activity, and his greatest pride, is playing classical music, especially as a soloist with great orchestras, in a schedule that is unbelievably overcrowded. No flautist in the world even approaches this. Galway says that there are a great many good flautists in the world today, but they simply do not have work. "I opened the concert season of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra," he says. "That was a great honor, but not too many flautists are accorded it."
"There is no school of flute, like the school of violin from which violinists like Yasha Heifetz came," he says. Galway adds that there are many small centers and no end of teachers, who perhaps play two or three concerts a year but nevertheless teach their pupils the most complicated works. By comparison, in the first two months of this year, Galways says, he himself appeared as a soloist in 27 concerts.
The most sought-after class in the world
James Galway was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in December 1939, to working-class parents who also knew how to play musical instruments. He started studying flute with a local teacher, whom he describes as a good flautist with a wonderful approach to children, who was a significant figure in the lives of many children in the city. Later he learned with a teacher who came to Belfast, a singer who also played the flute, and a pupil of Geoffrey Gilbert of the French school. After that he studied with Gilbert himself at the Guildhall school, and in his twenties, with important teachers such as Jean-Pierre Rampal at the Paris Conservatoire. Finally, Galway became a pupil of the preeminent flautist of the 20th century, the Frenchman Marcel Moyse.
His teachers, he says, were always better players than he was, but he was a good pupil who could understand what they were teaching him. Shortly after his arrival in Paris, Galway was offered a job as flautist with the opera, and left his studies.
Was it worthwhile to leave an institute like the Paris Conservatoire?
"You tell me what's better - having a job in the opera, or a piece of paper saying you can play the flute?"
Galway has played with the most important orchestras in Europe, including the London Symphony Orchestra and that of Covent Garden. He also played first flute with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Herbert von Karajan. But he also did not hesitate to leave that orchestra for a career as a soloist in 1975.
Galway speaks a great deal about playing scales and exercises, about the way to place one's fingers while playing, on using muscles while playing and on the techniques of playing rather than the spirit of the music. He says that pupils today complain that they do not like to play scales. "But I tell them that the first bar of Mozart's D major is a scale!" he says. Nevertheless, he demands that they play scales, and he teaches them to analyze the piece so that they will understand what they are playing, and they have to learn to play without notes, even though he was never taught to do so.
Galway does not give private lessons, but teaches only at a class he founded near Lucerne in Switzerland. His pupils have to undergo extremely stringent tests and send him recordings of their playing - now he says he plans to demand DVDs to prove they are the ones actually playing - in order to be accepted for the most sought-after class in the world. "It's hard to believe how many flautists there are," he says.
Why? What attracts people to the instrument?
"Why?" Galway laughs. "Because I have made 62 discs!"
A friend who will protect me
His wife, Lady Jeanne Galway, joins in the conversation. She was born in the United States and was a professional flautist in her own right even before marrying Sir James.
You two play together. Who decides what and how you will play?
"It is always him," she says. "Sometimes I dare suggest something, or play a phrase which he follows, but usually it's his decision. He always tells me that the only difference between us is that he has experience."
Jeanne Galway relates that they met at a master class given by her teacher, who was the principle flautist at the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, when she was 21. She was a student and Galway came as a guest, and she and her friends were very excited when they heard he was coming. First he passed his golden flute among them, and then he started playing, "and I'd never heard a sound like that in my life."
After the class, "I offered him to go out with me and my girlfriends. We introduced him to all the American drinks and I became a James Galway groupie."
At the age of 24, Jeanne was already the first flautist with the orchestra and played at Carnegie Hall - where she once again ran into the famous flautist. He remembered her, got her telephone number and invited her to go out that evening. "I brought along a girlfriend that time too."
James laughs: "All they wanted was that I pay the bill."
"No, Jimmy. I brought her along as protection. I knew he was divorced and I didn't want any involvement. I had a dream to become a star [flautist] and didn't want James Galway to spoil it. And marriage - who thought of that at all?"
They met again and played together, "and suddenly I felt he was my best friend and I started missing him when we weren't together."
The two have been married for 25 years and live in Switzerland. Jeanne says that they not only play music together, but also cook together and play checkers together in the evenings. "And table tennis, even though we don't count the points and just laugh."
And then there is the music. She says that every time he plays, she hears the same wonderful sound she heard that first time, and asks herself how he does it.
Indeed, how do you produce it? Do you have a special technique?
"It is definitely technique, and practice, and scales," says Galway. "What is important is the understanding, the intellectual dimension of the music, which in these times is no longer considered an important factor. One has to understand, for example, what the low part of the scale is and what the middle and top are, how the differences between them are heard and how they are produced, and what fingering to use."
"The secret is simple," he continues. "My sound is that good not because I am James Galway, but simply because I know what I'm doing.