Sir James Galway

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Jan 31

Eunice Tsang talks to legendary flautist Sir James Galway ahead of his programme of Bach concertos at City Hall

Alegendary performer in the world of classical music, Sir James Galway is coming to Hong Kong with his dazzling golden flutes. Having studied at (but never graduated from) two of the most prestigious music schools in England – the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Royal College of Music – he’s managed to play with the most distinguished orchestras in the world, from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, where he was principal flautist. Never quite satisfied, Galway has since leapt into the unknown, going solo and gaining amazing success in the process. One of his most daring feats was his re-arranging of folk musician John Denver’s famous Annie’s Song, which became a hit success when released in 1978. Since then, Galway has not shied away from anything, breaking more traditions by crossing genres, playing with pop and jazz artists like The Chieftains and Pink Floyd, and helping record the iconic soundtrack to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Time Out sits down with the virtuoso as he talks about his set for Hong Kong and, more importantly, his golden flutes!

Can you tell us about the programme for Hong Kong and why you’ve chosen Bach?
The reason why I chose this programme – Brandenburg Concerti 4 & 5 and the famous Bach Suite in B Minor – is that they are among my favourite pieces by JS Bach. It’s also wonderful to show off the orchestra as a fine body of string players. This is music that the audience has been listening to forever – they are exposed to this on a daily basis by every FM music station. In its simplicity it is easy to enjoy, and I enjoy playing these pieces as do the other soloists and string players.

Tell us about your famous golden flutes! How many do you own? How did you come about them? 
All my instruments were built over the years for special occasions. I have collected a large number of very fine instruments since I first went to college in London. I always believed it was more important to buy a good instrument than to buy a car. Over the years I have amassed over 30 flutes, including silver, gold of various carats and platinum flutes. Newer flutes, unlike string instruments, are better due to advanced technology in their creation, which is why I keep adding to my collection.

The one you’re playing for Hong Kong – how many carats is that?
I might play a 14-carat Nagahara or my new platinum Nagahara with gold keys flute in this concert. Gold has a deeper quality, with many colours. My new platinum flute is so easy to play – it has a great response. The acoustics of the hall dictates which instrument you use.

You play so many genres of music – classical, pop, folk, even movie soundtracks. What makes you want to try them all?
Each composer has something different to say and it’s interesting for any musician to discover the voices of these people. 

What do you strive for most in your performances? 
Interpreting the music in a personal way.

You often talk about your deep faith - is there a relationship between your music and faith?
Yes. I believe my gift is God given and therefore i am obliged to look after it.

You often teach masterclasses on tour. Have you discovered any differences between Western and Asian students?
There are no differences. They are all bright kids, talented kids who play for fun, kids who take it rather seriously and kids who dedicate their whole being to playing. But I do enjoy teaching here in Asia as I enjoy the discipline of Asian students and their quick response and enthusiasm to learning. 

As a teacher, what do you try to emphasise the most to your pupils?
The need for daily practice!

What’s your view on the classical music scene at present?  
The classical music scene has changed. It’s a changing world we live in and classical music is going with the flow.


Sir James Galway Sun Jan 31, 8pm, Concert Hall, Hong Kong City Hall, Tickets: $280-$680,


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