A master flutist whose playing style has become the measure by which others are judged, James Galway (born 1939) is credited with elevating the status, stature, and performance standards of his chosen instrument.
James Galway's illustrious musical career boasts a number of critical as well as popular successes. Even before he reached his teens, for instance, he had been named a champion flute player in Ireland. Later, after studying with flute masters in Paris and London, he performed with the London Symphony Orchestra and served for years as the principal flutist with both the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Galway then sought to increase public awareness and appreciation of the flute through various international tours and television programs. He has also reached out to a new generation by teaching master classes. As Galway declared in a 1994 interview with Philip Kennicott available online at www.futurenet.com, "I've set the standard…. I think I've inspired a lot of kids to really try to do something better with the flute."
Galway was born on December 8, 1939, in a working-class neighborhood of Belfast, Northern Ireland. He developed his interest in all things musical at a very early age. His father, a shipyard riveter who was also named James, was a flutist and accordion player in a local band, while his mother, Ethel, a textile mill worker, was a self-taught piano player. When he was a just a young child, Galway began to try out a variety of instruments, picking up the harmonica, violin, and penny whistle before settling on the flute, which he quickly decided was his favorite.
At about the age of nine, Galway began taking informal flute lessons from both his father and grandfather. He also learned how to read music from the leader of the local flute band. When he was ten, he entered an Irish Flute Championship contest and won the three solo contests he entered. By the time he turned 12, he knew he wanted his career to be in music.
Awarded Prestigious Scholarship
While attending Mountcollyer Secondary Modern School, Galway met Muriel and Douglas Dawn, both of whom made sure the promising youngster had every opportunity to realize his goals. Muriel Dawn, a flutist with the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) Northern Ireland Symphony Orchestra, taught him the basic skills involved in playing the flute. Douglas Dawn found him a job as a piano tuner's apprentice, sought out opportunities for him to perform with Belfast-area orchestras, and helped persuade the Belfast Education Committee to award Galway a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Galway studied for three years at the Royal Academy of Music under the tutelage of John Francis before he moved on to the Guildhall School for Music. There he was instructed by Geoffrey Gilbert, whom he credits with being one of the major technical influences in his career. The early 1960s saw Galway move to Paris and study under Gaston Crunelle at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique.
In between his studies and his appointments to various international orchestras, Galway married his first wife, Claire. They had one son. Galway married his second wife, Anna Renggli, in 1972. The couple had twin daughters.
Despite the fact that he never graduated from any of the musical academies he attended, Galway managed to impress a number of London-based conductors and easily found work in their orchestras and ensembles when he returned to the United Kingdom from Paris. His first job was with the Wind Band of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. He then moved on to the Sadler's Wells Opera Orchestra, where he played both the flute and piccolo. His next job was with the Royal Opera House Orchestra, once again as a flutist and piccolo player. Galway then joined the London Symphony Orchestra, serving as the principal flutist for the 1966-67 season before accepting the same position with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, also in London. He remained with the Royal Philharmonic for two seasons, resigning in 1969 to become the principal solo flutist for the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
Galway's tenure with the Berlin Philharmonic was not an especially happy one. Feeling unfulfilled and underutilized, he began accepting engagements that allowed him to perform apart from the orchestra. During the summer of 1975, with the encouragement of Michael Emmerson, a former talent scout who offered to become his manager, Galway resigned from the Berlin Philharmonic to seek his fortune as a full-time solo instrumentalist.
Gained International Prominence
The gamble paid off handsomely. Galway appeared in more than 120 concerts over the next year at venues throughout the world, including stints with all four of the major orchestras in England. He also recorded his first four albums and even found time to teach a semester course in advanced flute studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.
In his solo work, Galway has always sought to broaden the traditionally limited classical repertoire of flute music by transcribing whatever captures his fancy. His new arrangements for the flute range from classical pieces originally written for other instruments (such as The Four Seasons by Vivaldi and Khachaturian's concerto for violin) to popular tunes of the day done in classic Galway style. Nothing is beyond his scope-jazz, country, show tunes, and the folk music of both Ireland and Japan all figure prominently in his repertoire. In addition, Galway often commissions new flute pieces from contemporary composers such as Lorin Maazel, Joaquin Rodrigo, and Thea Musgrave.
One of Galway's most famous arrangements is his cover of folksinger John Denver's "Annie's Song." Released in 1978, this highly acclaimed and wildly successful instrumental piece not only won him legions of new fans but also encouraged him to collaborate with other popular performers of the day, including singer Cleo Laine and composer Henry Mancini.
Yet as Kennicott notes, "Galway's high profile as a crossover artist, popular entertainer, and restless raider of popular classics not written for the flute, naturally alienates the purists. With dozens and dozens of recordings of Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons, ' why would anyone want to hear it transcribed for flute? Galway argues that musical practice of the time included a great deal of shifting about among instruments, and that composers such as Bach regularly reworked material for different instruments. He's right of course, but the popularity of his crossover and transcription discs doesn't rest on any such historical premise. They're popular because Galway is performing them, and flute lovers are grateful for almost anything he performs."
Galway has further cemented his widespread appeal by making frequent television appearances. Besides his own specials, he has been featured on the critically acclaimed children's program Sesame Street and other American public television shows as well as a wide variety of regular network shows. And in 1989, Galway decided to resume teaching master classes in the flute. He works with students at his home in Switzerland and in many of the cities he visits while on tour.
Recordings Brought Acclaim
Ever the consummate perfectionist, Galway has typically refused to release any recording with his name on it until he was completely satisfied with the results. This fastidious attention to detail is in no small way responsible for the many honors he has garnered throughout his career. He was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque for his recordings of Mozart's concertos and also received kudos for his recordings of Vivaldi. His album sales have netted him several gold and platinum records. He has received record of the year awards from both Billboard and Cashbox magazines. In 1977, he was named a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), a commendation by Queen Elizabeth II that recognized Galway's musical contributions to society. And in 1997, Musical America named him musician of the year.
Given his tireless quest for innovation, his flair for improvisation, and his ability to secure critical acclaim as well as commercial success, Galway has unquestionably earned the distinction of being the premiere flutist of his generation. The charismatic performer is well aware of his appeal and makes good use of his abilities as a showman to broaden the audience for flute music. As he told Kennicott, "I know who's got the best chops-me."
Further Reading on James Galway
Contemporary Musicians, Volume 3, Gale, 1990, pp. 87-89.
Galway, James, Autobiography, enlarged edition, Chivers, 1980.
"James Galway, " http://www.cameratapacifica.org/galway.html (March 3, 1998).
"The James Galway Flute Page, " http://www.classicalmus.com/bmgclassics/galway/bio.html (March 3, 1998).
"James Galway, " http://www.futurenet.com/classicalnet/artists/galway/interview.html (March 3, 1998).