Flute – Sir James Galway: He’s now silvery, but the flute’s golden – Part 2

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Flute – Sir James Galway: He’s now silvery, but the flute’s golden – Part 2


Flute – Sir James Galway: He’s now silvery, but the flute’s golden – Part 2

BY LAWRENCE TOPPMAN

Flute – Making his own way Galway had the second-best job in his world 40 years ago: principal flutist at the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan. He quit to take the best job, striking out on his own.

I wanted progress,” he says. “Doing the same thing over and over is no progression. Swimming in uncharted waters breeds progression. I knew I could match my Berlin Philharmonic salary by freelancing, so I didn’t second-guess it at all. I told Karajan a year before I left that I was going.”

Reports say the maestro was irritated at a defection from the world’s most famous orchestra. Galway refutes that: “He said, ‘If you don’t try, you’ll never know if you could do it or not.’”

He was married at the time to Annie Renggli, and he moved to her native Switzerland. (He also recorded a hit instrumental version of John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” for her.) After they divorced, he moved near Lucerne with Jeanne, whom he married in 1984. They often play joint concerts now.

I think I’ve changed her playing,” he says. “I think my wife sounds like me, and very few flute players sound like me. You get that by listening every day.

My teacher at the Royal College of Music gave me a recording of (French flutist) Marcel Moyse playing a Hungarian Fantasy by Doppler. I used to listen several times a day, and I would try to play the piece the way he did. People said, ‘Jimmy, you sound like Moyse!’ I thought, ‘That’s better than sounding like a no-goer.’

Then one day, I studied with Moyse. He told me he tried every day of his life to sound like HIS teacher.”

A life of instruction

Galway now teaches one-on-one, in master classes or through his online First Flute course. He gives people rules so those can be mastered, then set aside.

A copy of me is better than no copy at all,” he says, laughing. “A copy of me will one day bloom like a flower into something that’s not a copy of me. …

But there’s nothing worse than playing music following rules. Baroque (traditionalists) have a lot of rules by which they must abide, and it suits a lot of instrumentalists down to the ground. They don’t have any freedom in their playing anyway, so they’d like to be put in a structure.”

Galway doesn’t. At 75, after a lifetime of playing, musicology, the creation of international flute festivals (including one in Athens, Ga., this May) and even a bit of conducting – which he says doesn’t entice him – he looks ahead.

There are quite a few things I’d like to do. I would like to record Handel’s flute sonatas, but I don’t know of a record company that would sell them. Just making a record for yourself is like having a visiting card printed and handing it out.

There’s another thing: the works of Carolan, the blind Irish harp player. That would require a tremendous amount of digging and arranging. So maybe I’d just rather sit around, play chess and smoke Havana cigars.”

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