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Classical IPR in conversation with Sir James Galway

World renowned flutists Sir James Galway and Lady Jeanne Galway are visiting Interlochen Center for the Arts this week.

Ahead of their arrival in northern Michigan, Sir James spoke with Classical IPR from his home across the Atlantic.

The Galways will both perform on Wednesday evening in the Dendrinos Chapel. On Thursday in Corson Auditorium, Sir James Galway is the featured soloist with the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra conducted by Leslie B. Dunner. Each concert is at 7:30 p.m. More information and tickets  are available here.

Thursday evening's concert with the IAA Orchestra will be broadcast live on Classical IPR. Tune in at 7 p.m. for commercial recordings of  Sir James Galway. At 7:25 we will take you live to Corson Auditorium.

Zachary Sobania provided production assistance for this interview.

Credit Paul Cox

An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.

On the rumor that he started his career playing a folk instrument

I started out playing a regular flute. I don’t know how this [rumor] got about, but people keep asking me this question. Somebody changed something somewhere, and they ask you the same questions because they look it up somewhere. 

On when he actually started playing folk music

I was in the Berlin Philharmonic, and I'd arranged to do some concerts in London with two friends. We were going to play two Bach sonatas and two of the Concerts Royales by Rameau. It was such a success that we had a standing ovation. The harpsichord player, who will remain nameless - but the sort of usual uptight musician of those times - he said, “No, I'm not playing any encores.” I said, “OK, I'll play something.” So I got my tin whistle and played a couple of Irish jigs. And that was my beginning of playing folk music. 

On his musical beginnings

I started playing the violin, but it sort of fell to pieces because it was being slowly consumed by thousands of Irish wood worms who were very industrious about their business. Every time I turned the violin upside down, a whole bunch of dust would fall out. And eventually it fell to pieces. 

We did have a flute in the house. I decided to take it up because my dad played the flute, my Uncle Joe played the flute, and my granddad played the flute. It was my granddad who taught everybody. So it's in the family. 

On what he sees as the biggest changes in the music industry over the duration of his career

The digitalization of the whole thing. When I when I made my first records, they were reel-to-reel, and then sliced it together with a razor blade. And then we went to CD, and then it went to the internet. This whole process took place while I was watching. I also joined in it, of course, because I made some of the first recordings on digital.

On the shift from analogue to digital

One [digital recording session] was in New York in the RCA building. We were getting ready to do this, and the mixing board had not yet arrived. So these guys turn up – it was like Laurel and Hardy - they said, “Where do you want this?” And they dropped it on the floor. 

As it was the first time we used this [digital] technology, it became very bogged down in technicalities. I said, “Listen, I'm not doing this here – I’m canceling this.” This was a recording of Debussy trio with viola and harp. I said, “I want to go back to London, and we'll do it in London, in analogue. So we went back to London and did it analogue, and they released that [version]. 

So that was my first digital recording that wasn't digital [laughs]. After that, of course, they got it sorted out, and we were able to use the new technology very well. 

The advice he’d give his teenaged self

It would be to practice, practice, practice, practice. And by “practice,” I don't mean just learning repertoire. I mean learning how to play scales, how to play with a good articulation, how to develop your tone. Most important of all - that is often overlooked - is breathing. 

There’s no point having a teacher who just teaches you to play pieces, and who says, “Oh, this bit should go faster, that bit go slower, and this needs to be up an octave or whatever. I think we should equip the student with the tools of the trade that he can do that himself and be inspired by himself to do it.

On his dedication to education

I saw the students trying to play flute concertos, and some of the concertos they were learning, they’ll never, ever play. They’re by second-rate composers - modern ones. They just learn these pieces - I don't know. 

I thought, I should equip these kids with the technique to be able to play a Mozart concerto and to impose their musical ideas on it. Instead of having to wait till somebody tells you to do it. 

On what drives him to keep practicing at the age of 79

You don't want to lose it. And, of course, age takes its toll, but I'm doing my best to battle it [laughs]. I practice every day for maybe two, two and a half hours.