Sunday 22 April 2018

Arts: Big knight for maestro Galway

James Galway.
James Galway.

Aedn Gormley

Sir James Galway was knighted in 2001, but when I spoke to him this week, he seemed equally chuffed to be receiving the National Concert Hall Lifetime Achievement Award next Saturday.

"It is a once-in-a-lifetime happening from a very special bunch of people. In a way, it's like getting an Irish knighthood. But they only give one, so this is an extra special thing."

The internationally acclaimed flautist lives in Switzerland but still refers to Ireland as his spiritual home. This gala event will pay tribute to the life and career of Galway, who will play some of his most popular music with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. There will also be guest appearances from Brian Kennedy and Paddy Moloney, among others.

Sir James has a hearty and infectious laugh and regularly falls into kinks of laughter as we take a trip down memory lane. He talks about collaborating with The Chieftains and loving working with them – not just because of the music but because of their 'joie de vivre' and, of course, the partying.

He tells me about his good friend Henry Mancini and recalls suggesting to the composer and musician to use the tin whistle instead of the piccolo on a penny whistle jig they were working on.

Galway also turned up on the soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings. He recalls that he nearly declined the offer to play on the recording as he was just coming off a major American tour, but thankfully had a change of heart and was thrilled to be involved.

On a sadder note, Seamus Heaney was one of the invited guests next Saturday and Sir James, like the rest of us, is still in shock over the passing of our beloved Nobel laureate. Galway had seen Heaney at an awards ceremony over the summer in New York.

"Seamus made a speech which I thought was one of the greatest speeches of all time, he had a way of incorporating the Irish language into things. He was a fantastic man."

James Galway held the coveted position of solo flautist with the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan from 1969 to 1975. It was at this point that he decided to pursue a solo career.

Karajan was initially supportive of Galway's decision. However, at the last moment the renowned conductor really didn't want Galway to leave and by all accounts didn't handle it particularly well. Sir James was ready to move on, though, and he wrote a letter of resignation on his birthday.

He hasn't looked back since and has shared the stage with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Pink Floyd to Elton John and played for such dignitaries as Queen Elizabeth II and former US President Bill Clinton.

One of the things I have always noticed about James Galway is that he looks so calm and so comfortable performing in major concert halls around the world. So what's his secret?

'Between you and me, I'm a really good flute player and that makes you comfortable. If you know what you are doing is of a standard that you personally approve of, then I think you can bask in this comfort."

Well you can't knock Galway for such confidence in his playing as he has put in the work.

By the time he got his first job in Sadler's Wells, he reckons he had done around 11,000 hours of practice.

"There is something about living in Northern Ireland as a Protestant, you have this sort of work ethic. Don't ask me why, but you just practise like hell!"

Sir James Galway will be awarded the National Concert Hall Lifetime Achievement Award on Saturday October 5 at the NCH, hosted by Miriam O'Callaghan, who will talk to him about his life and music. He will play some of his most popular music with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and special guests. See

Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals (Sat 1-4pm) and Sunday Matinée (Sun 1-4pm) on RTÉ lyric fm.

Irish Independent

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