Sir James Galway: Flute maestro reflects on his career

By Jayne McCormack

image captionSir James Galway puts his successful career down to constant practice and preparation

He's been described as the hardest working man in the music industry and at 75, Sir James Galway still exudes the energy and enthusiasm of a 20-year-old.

From Belfast to Bangkok, the musical maestro has played thousands of concerts all over the world, with a professional career spanning five decades.

He is still touring even now and despite having lived in Switzerland for the past 40 years, he has never forgotten his roots.

"I have to say I'm very proud to be Irish, I can't imagine being anything else - I've still got my lilt!"

Inherited love

He developed a love of music from his parents, James and Ethel, and it was his uncle Joe who began teaching him how to play the flute at an early age.

"The music business was in our family," he said.

"Granddad was the flute player and bandmaster in the Apprentice Boys flute band, but I learned how to really play from my uncle."

image captionJames (right) with his mother Ethel and his younger brother, George

He has worked with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and spent six years with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra before embarking on a solo career in 1975.

Since then he's sold 30 million records worldwide, and insists he has no intention of slowing down.

Practice makes perfect

Sir James said that his music career didn't just happen overnight, and that he is a staunch believer in the power of preparation.

"There is a great deal to be said for self-discipline, which goes a long way to bringing it to the front," he said.

"It's all about practice, the more you do the better you get - I would never turn up to a rehearsal unprepared."

image captionIn his first year of performing solo, he played over 100 concerts in a bid to boost his reputation

Honoured with a knighthood in 2001, and having won a lifetime achievement prize at the Gramophone Awards in 2014, Sir James has been garlanded with dozens of top accolades throughout his career.

However, he said that some awards have escaped even his grasp.

"I never won a Grammy, but Elton John got one for a very nice flute solo he wrote for me," he said.

"I'm not bothered about the awards, but I'd like Elton to write me another couple of tunes!"


Even though he still plays concerts internationally, Sir James says that his passion now lies in music education - and that is the legacy he wants to leave behind.

He teaches classes wherever he goes and has just returned from a tour of South Africa, where he had the chance to lead a master class with some students.

"I consider myself a crusader," he said.

"That's what we want to do. I've spent all these years in the battlefield, so to speak, and now I want to teach these kids how to fight.

"Music gives you an extra colour in your education, when kids are learning music at school, it gives them their own voice.

"More importantly than that, it teaches them comradeship, the importance of playing together and pulling together to make moments of great intensive beauty."

Golden flute

With his constant travelling, teaching and performing, one might wonder how the 75-year-old is still able to do it all, but by his side is his wife, Lady Jeanne Galway.

"I don't think I could have come as far without her help," he said.

image captionSir James and his wife Lady Jeanne Galway, played a duet on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show in 2014

The pair met when Galway was playing in New York in the late 1970s, shortly after he had split from his second wife Anna Renggli.

They married soon after and live happily in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Given the nickname of the man with the golden flute, Sir James now plays a specially-commissioned Nagahara worth about £20,000.

He is regarded not only as a world-class flautist, but a shining example of top Northern Ireland talent - and he said it is lamentable that the arts are not being prioritised in Belfast.

image captionGalway spends most of his free time at his home in Lucerne, Switzerland

'First importance'

"London has just announced that it's going to spend £141m on a new arts centre including a concert hall," he said.

"If it's so important in London, why is it not as important for us in Belfast? It should be something of first importance, we should be proud in Belfast to try to have both the best orchestra and the best theatre."

But in Galway's spare time, it's not just about the arts. He also let slip that he's a massive sports fan, particularly if there's good football on the TV.

"Belfast should have the best soccer team too. I'm a fan of Tottenham Hotspur, I love watching top notch sport, but I've never played," he added.

"With these glasses and my bad eyesight I could never see the ball!"

Being James Galway will be broadcast on BBC Four at 20:00 GMT on Friday 13 March as part of Irish music night

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