There are not many musicians whose names have become synonymous with their chosen form of expression. One could comfortably mention “Pablo Casals and cello” in the same naturally fitting breath, and the same goes for Arthur Rubinstein and the piano or Itzhak Perlman and the violin.
Then again, those three luminaries played instruments that have been identified with frontline classical music endeavor for centuries. The same could hardly be said of the flute.
However, Sir James Galway changed the perception of the wind instrument more than three decades ago, and the 77-year-old Belfast-born flutist continues to shine and entertain audiences worldwide with peerless musicianship and signature charm.
It is not for naught that Galway is known as “the man with the golden flute.”
Galway will perform here with the Paris Vox Musicorum Orchestra, conducted by Ada Pelleg, along with his wife, Lady Jeanne Galway, an internationally renowned flute player, in a rendition of Cimarosa’s Concerto for Two Flutes in G Major. He will also be the soloist in Mozart’s Concerto for Flute in D Major. The program also features a couple of more contemporary works: Britten’s Simple Symphony and Barber’s Adagio for Strings.
Galway grew up in a musical family, which he says helped in all kinds of ways. His father was an avid flutist, and his mother was a pianist.
“You could play the flute anytime of the day or night and no one would care, so that was one good thing,” he chuckles. “There was music in the house all the time.”
Mind you, quantity did not necessarily translate into clarity.
“My dad was in love with Viennese waltzes, and half the time I wondered whether we were living in Belfast or Vienna,” he laughs.
The youngster cut his musical teeth in various fife and drum marching bands, and his early musical diet consisted largely of that and his dad’s beloved Viennese waltzes, “and Gilbert and Sullivan operas and Bach’s B Minor Mass, which we played in the local orchestra,” he adds.
As a teenager in the 1950s, one might have expected the young flutist to be wooed by the captivating dynamics of rock and roll, but that was not the case.
“There was pop music around – people like Bing Crosby – but I didn’t really get exposed to that sort of stuff because I exposed myself to other kinds of music that I liked better,” he explains, referring to classical music.
Over the last 40 years, Galway has gained a reputation for flitting easily among various genres. During his long career, he has released dozens of albums, selling them in the millions, and gained popularity with renditions of such pop hits as John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” and “I Will Always Love You,” written and originally performed by Dolly Parton and later by Whitney Houston. Galway has also shared bandstands with the likes of Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, The Chieftains and Andrea Bocelli.
The flutist says he began to branch out a long time ago.
“When I moved to London in the 1960s, I started to do things like jingles, and there was also some sort of crossover idiom,” he recalls. It was very much a matter of bread-winning back then. “You had to fall in with the idea. I got more into falling in with the idea than the actual playing.”
While Galway has been feted by music critics and fans of all stripes, there are some who have voiced disappointment with his propensity for stepping outside the confines of classical music. But Galway has no time for the purist approach.
“If you look at actors, they do all sorts of things – they do comedy, murder stories, Shakespeare, they direct films, they do everything. But as soon as you step out of a box as a musician, you’re branded as somebody weird. By playing all these things, I wasn’t doing anything that hadn’t been done before,” he counters.
Artists have to display courage in exploring new fields of endeavor and wearing their heart on their sleeve on stage. But in the mid-1970s, Galway displayed a tremendous amount of daring. After six year as principal flute player with Herbert von Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, considered the world’s top classical ensemble, Galway departed to pursue a solo career.
“It was quite a move,” he confesses.
“Not everybody leaves the Berlin Philharmonic.”
But Galway wanted to follow his own path.
“It’s another way of thinking to be a soloist,” he states. “I did very well in the orchestra; but if you want to be a real soloist, you have to take things on board like a soloist. You have to study as a soloist.”
Of course, that involves taking on a lot more responsibility, in addition to grabbing the limelight.
“In the orchestra, if you try something and it goes okay, then that’s it, you’ve done it, you don’t need to practice it more. But when you practice as a soloist, you take bits from pieces – they don’t have to be difficult but just things that require some sort of expression. You play it maybe 10 times, and if you don’t get it right, you keep on playing it until it becomes second nature,” he explains.
Presumably, soloists tend towards the virtuoso side of the performance track, but Galway begs to differ.
“It’s not really a matter of virtuosity, it’s a matter of expression. By that I mean really singing the music, knowing the music that’s inside your heart,” he says.
Practice, as they say, makes perfect, and Galway maintains a rigorous practicing regimen. Even after well over half a century of wowing audiences around the world, he is still as keen as ever to give every concert his utmost.
He recounts that he recently had to refuse an offer to lunch with “a distinguished colleague who plays in a very distinguished orchestra,” telling him that he had to practice for an upcoming recital. When his friend suggested that Galway didn’t have to spend more time preparing, as he knew the works back to front, the flutist insisted that he had to put in practice time.
“He couldn’t understand that because for him, if he got the works up to the standard that I start at, he would happy. But I’m not happy with the standard I begin with; I’m only happy with the standard at the end, if it’s really good,” he says.
The audiences here are clearly in for a treat.The concerts will take place on December 12 at Heichal Hateatron in Kiryat Motzkin; December 13 at the Culture Hall on Kibbutz Yifat; and December 14 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Tickets and information: 050- 534-2687