Irish Flautist James Galway Comes to the Kennedy Center
James Galway is a world traveler and a world citizen. He’s been all over and played and taught and talked about the flute in concert halls, schools, universities, and venues world-wide, but if you’re talking to him on the phone and if the name doesn’t give you a hint, you will recognize the lilt in the phone, that musical, growly accent, right away.
Galway is Irish, Belfast born, and he’s a talker, a knight, often referred to in just about anything you might find on him in the great wide internet world of communication and information as “the living legend of the flute.”
“Well, yeah, there’s that,” he says on the phone speaking from Dallas where he’s spending three days as part of his Legacy Tour, a musical tour and series of concerts, (often accompanied by his wife Lady Jeanne Galway, who is also a flautist of note), which mixes his vast repertoire of classical music with Celtic and Irish music, educational talk and master classes. He’s a knight, but he doesn’t stand or talk like he is. He doesn’t seem the kind of mind who needs a lot of patting on the back, or formalities.
To be sure, the tour is about his own legacy as a flautist, which is to say, he and Jean Claude Rampal before him, have done an enormous amount to spread the gospel of the flute, which is often relegated to the kind of instrument commonplace in Irish households and played on porches by just about anybody.
“It’s how I learned and came in contact with the flute, and fell in love with it, true,” he says, “but that’s not the whole story.” It’s entirely appropriate and filled with a little touch of serendipity that Sir Galway is doing one of his Legacy Tour concerts (with his wife Lady Jeanne Galway and pianist Michael McHale) at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society in the shank of the afternoon at 4 p.m. Right after the Washington St. Patrick’s Day parade.
“Yes, that’s kind of nice isn’t it,” he said. “We’ve included a section that’s going to be Celtic in nature with traditional Irish folk songs and music.”
Appropriate to the day are the folk tunes, but appropriate to the Sir Galway’s legacy will be the major part of the concert, which includes works by Doppler (“Rigoletto Fantasie for Two Flutes” with Lady Jane Galway); Mozart (Flute Quartet in D Major”), Bizet/Borne (“Carmen Fantasy” arranged by Galway), and Debussy’s famous and popular “Clair de Lune”
In addition, he’ll be conducting a master class on the flute with local flute students at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in downtown Washington on Monday, March 18.
“The master classes, to me, the talking, the teaching is almost as important as performing,” Galway said. “It’s how you open people up to the music, the instrument itself. “
“My dad, my family, they all played,” he said. “It’s true, the flute seems such a common place instruments that everyone will pick one up and play one, if they could.”
But Galway got lucky and was one of those people who carried his ability with and love for the instrument to studies in London and Paris before embarking on a professional career with Sadlers Wells & Royal Covent Garden Operas, the BBC, Royal Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra, and became solo flautist with the Berlin Philharmonic which was conducted by Herbert Von Karajan.
When he broke out as a soloist, it was a breakthrough in a big way and the end result has been a legend indeed, a career that has been 30 million albums sold, and a recording list that seems to stretch beyond the horizon. “When you realize what you can do with the flute—beside just play it—in terms of all the kinds of music, when I knew that, I was on my way, that’s what I was going to do,” he said.
It’s a real passion. You can hear it in his voice. If Rampal popularized the music of the flute into areas not usually associated with it, Galway moves it further with his education effort with new compositions which he has done or commissioned other composers to do. So, there’s Bach and Mozart and Handel on the flute and jazz, and new music, bending genders and cross pollination, something that’s happening quite a bit in the contemporary classical music scene, where he is more than a knight, but a king.