By Bill Robinson
How did a boy from Belfast grow up to be the world’s greatest living flute player?
Sir James Galway is quick with a one word answer: practice..
(You may have heard that also is how one gets to Carnegie Hall.)
By the time Galway was 21 and was hired for his first professional solo job in London, he had practiced 11,800 hours, the flutist said last week in a telephone interview with the Richmond Register.
On Tuesday, Galway and his wife, Lady Jeanne Galway, will join the Irish Chamber Orchestra in concert at the EKU Center for the Arts.
On Monday night, Galway and Lady Jeanne, if she can make it to Richmond in time, will teach a master class at the arts center for students from the region.
“You’ve got to come to that master class,” Galway said. “I’m gonna‛ teach everybody and it’s gonna‛ be a riot.”
In the promotion photo his managers distribute to the media prior to his concerts, an exquisitely groomed Galway is dressed in a tuxedo holding his golden flute. He is depicted with an almost aristocratic bearing, befitting his knighthood
However, that notion is quickly dispelled by even the briefest conversation with the master.
Galway may have been knighted by the queen and performed in the world’s greatest concert halls, but he sounds like the kind of raconteur one would hope to meet in an Irish pub.
While practice is still the key to musical excellence, not just any practice will do, Galway said, qualifying his simplistic-sounding answer.
“You would not just practice technical things,” he said. “You would practice the enlargement of musical ideas, the enlargement of expression. You wouldn’t just sit there like you were typing out a novel. You’d want to get a better tone on certain notes. You’d want to get one note to sound reflective within a phrase. You’d want to get some other notes better in focus and things like this. All that sort of stuff you can only do through practice.”
Students from around the region can expect to receive that kind of guidance at Monday’s master class.
Practice also “always shows you something new,” Galway said.
“When you’re a kid, and you start praying. You pray the Lord’s Prayer, because that’s what they teach you. But then after awhile, you begin to enlarge your relationship with God. So, you change, but you’re still praying.”
Galway practices prayer as well as music, according to his biography. He spends time in prayer before he goes on stage.
When asked last week if he does pray before each performance, Galway said, “We sure do. You can’t take any chances.”
He said music can take humans to a higher spiritual level, closer to God.
“Some people have a connection with the Almighty that is actually more than human,” he said. “It’s something else.”
The Irish Chamber Orchestra is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but this is only the second time Galway has gone on tour with them. He last accompanied them 35 years ago.
The orchestra players then were all “no-kidding Irish,” except for one Frenchman, Galway said.
He professed not to know too much about the current members of the ensemble, which is based at the University of Limerick.
While a Mozart’s Flute Concerto, considered Galway’s “signature work,” and other classical works are on the playlist for Tuesday, there will be a distinctively Irish accent to the concert, Galway said.
On their 14-city North American tour, the Galways and the orchestra are premiering a new version of Belfast composer Philip Hammond’s “Carolan Variations,” a work inspired by tunes by Irish harpist Turlough O’Carolan. The new version is arranged for two flutes and chamber orchestra, ideal for this ensemble and the Galways..
The program also features Irish composer Hamilton Harty’s “Fantasy for Flute and Orchestra” and “In Ireland.” The latter work is a “folky type of piece” with “a couple of rills in it,” Galway said.
Galway is well aware that contemporary “county” and bluegrass music is a legacy of immigrants from Northern Ireland who settled the Appalachian region. And he admires the music and its performers.
“I’m very fond of bluegrass, myself,” Galway said, who was complimentary of the technical virtuosity of some bluegrass bands’ recordings.
This will be Galway’s third concert in Richmond. Once he came here to play a “really outrageous flute concerto by John Corigliano.”
When he remarked that it was probably the first time the piece had been performed in Richmond, the performance hall manager assured him it was not.
“Oh, no,” he said. “We had it played twice last year for children,” Galway said with a laugh.
Monday’s master class was the idea of Kristen Kean, an EKU associate professor of music who teaches flute. She participated in a Galway master class 10 years ago at Loyola University in New Orleans when she was a student.
When she proposed having Galway teach a master class at Eastern while he is in town, Galway, the EKU Center and EKU’s music department, which is underwriting the class, were all enthusiastic, she said.
In a master class, the visiting artist offers instruction to four players who each perform for about 30 minutes as other students observe.
An EKU student, Carrie Cleary of Richmond, will be one of the four performers. Another is a master’s level student at the University of Tennessee, a third is a doctoral student at the University of Illinois and the fourth is a free-lance flutist from Dayton, Ohio.
College and high school students from the region have been invited, and Kean said she expects about 300 to attend.
For tickets to Tuesday’s 7:30 p.m. concert, visit www.ekucenter.com or call 622-7469.