Flutist  James  Galway

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


galway Sir James Galway is internationally regarded as both a matchless interpreter of the classical repertoire and a consummate entertainer. With his unique sound, superb musicianship and dazzling virtuosity, he has a charismatic appeal that crosses all musical boundaries and has made him one of the most respected and sought-after performing artists of our time. He also devotes much of his free time to his duties as President of Flutewise, a non-profit organization that donates instruments to low-income students and young people with disabilities.

Born in Belfast December 8, 1939, Sir James played the penny whistle as a small child before switching to the flute. He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London and continued his studies at the Guildhall School of Music and later the Paris Conservatoire.

Sir James began his career at the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden which led to positions with the BBC Symphony Orchestra where he played piccolo. He was then appointed principal flautist of the London Symphony Orchestra and subsequently of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1969, Sir James Galway was appointed principal flute of the Berlin Philharmonic. In 1975 Sir James launched his career as a soloist and, with the help of best-selling discs and frequent television appearances, quickly became a household name. Since then he has travelled extensively, giving recitals, performing with the world’s leading orchestras, participating in chamber-music engagements, popular music concerts and giving master classes. In 1990 he took part in the historic “The Wall” concert in Berlin and in 1998 he was the only classical musician to participate in the Nobel Peace Concert in Oslo. He is also a frequent guest on television programmes in the USA. On 4 July 2000 he helped celebrate the first Independence Day of the century as a guest soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra in a nationally televised PBS special entitled “A Capitol Fourth”, broadcast live from the West Lawn of the Capitol. Sir James has also taken up the baton and in addition to numerous conducting engagements around the world he is Principal Guest Conductor of the London Mozart Players.

In 1978 Sir James Galway was awarded the Order of the British Empire, and in June 2001 he received the honour of knighthood from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II [shown in photo]. In 1997 he was named “Musician of the Year” by Musical America and has received Record of the Year awards from Billboard and Cash Box, as well as the Grand Prix du Disque for his recordings of Mozart’s Flute Concertos and numerous gold and platinum discs. In 2004 he received the President’s Merit Award from the Recording Academy at the Grammy’s 8th annual “Salute to Classical Music and in 2005 he was honoured at the prestigious Classic Brits Awards held in London’s Royal Albert Hall for his “Outstanding Contribution to Classical Music” in celebration of his 30 years as one of the top classical musicians of our time.

--  Biography (text only) taken from the Deutsche Grammophon website  


James Galway was in Chicago in April of 1989 for performances of the Pied Piper Fantasy by John Corigliano, with the Chicago Symphony conducted by Neeme Järvi.  [Names which are links on this page refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.]  I met with the flutist in his dressing room before one of the performances, and we had a lively and laugh-filled conversation.

Here is that encounter . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   You’ve made a lot of recordings.  Do you play differently in the recording studio than you do in the concert hall?

James Galway:   I try not to.  I try to play the same.   You try to sound the same.

galway BD:   Do you succeed?

JG:   Yes, usually.  Some recording studios are, I would say, not so good.  But on the other hand, it’s been my experience that when I do record in a not-so-good one, I don’t give them permission to put the recording out, and we record in another one until we get it to sound.

BD:   So you’re very fussy about the sound, and you get final veto power over it?

JG:   Oh, yes, because I own all the product that goes out.  Therefore, I’m rather more choosy, and I don’t have to be told by a record company who paid for it.  I pay for it upfront, and release it to the record company.

BD:   Even the records with orchestra?

JG:   Yes, everything.

BD:   Are you pleased with the sound you hear on your records?

JG:   Generally, yes.  I’m not a great Galway fan on records.  I don’t listen to myself on record.  I only listen to them maybe once or twice, just to make sure that they’ve got the takes that we decided upon, and that there’s nothing really drastically wrong.  When I first started making records, I used to record on CBS in London, where it’s always very dusty, and this building dust affects me very badly.  But I didn’t know it until recently, and I always used to split notes, but the producers never knew what a split note was.  They thought it was just a funny note.  I’d say there was one note in the middle that was wrong, and they’d say,
Oh, so it is! [much laughter] and we’d eventually cut it out.  I had to train them to listen to this, because they’re not used to listening to flute players in recording.  But then I got to recording in other places, and realized, for example, when I recorded in Italy in a church, there was no dust, and I didn’t split one note in a week.  [Laughs]

BD:   When you cut out the note, do you back into the take and remove the one note, or do you do the whole passage?

JG:   No, no, we do the whole passage.

BD:   Do you try to get long takes in everything, rather than cut-and-piece?

JG:   Oh, yes, yes.  We basically try and do everything in just two run-throughs.  Then, if there’s something drastic when we hear the playback, we fix it.  Sometimes the things are not entirely your doing.  You’ll get an instance, perhaps, where a damper sounds on the piano, and we have to deal with that.

BD:   Or a chair squeaking?

JG:   Yes, that sort of thing.  You don’t really notice that when you’re engaged in playing, because you don’t think of a recording as being a shush thing.  You just walk in and do it, because in the concert you don’t think of it being a quiet ambiance, but it really is.

BD:   Should the record, that piece of plastic, be absolutely perfect?

JG:   Yes, I think so.  If I hear Pavarotti singing in the opera house, and he sings his top B-flat perfectly, I want to hear it perfect on a record.

galway BD:   Can we always assume he will sing it perfectly in the theater?

JG:   I don’t know.  I’ve only heard him sing really tremendously.  I heard him sing recently in Finland, and in the rehearsal he sang everything full voice, and it was just astonishing.  I thought that’s how it should be, and that’s what I want to hear on a record.

BD:   But doesn’t the recording set up an impossible standard that you can’t duplicate night after night after night?

JG:   No, no!  Everything that’s on all of my records I can play just like that... except the Paganini (Moto Perpetuo, Op. 11).  [Gales of laughter from them both].

BD:   But do you do it perfectly every single time?

JG:   Yes!

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Really???

JG:   [With a smile]  Yes, I do.

BD:   [With mock horror]  You’re Mister Perfect???

JG:   [Laughs]  No, I just get it right every time.

BD:   Do you ever feel that it’s a contest, that you’re trying to make sure everything is perfect?

JG:   No, because I practice a lot, and get it right.  Horowitz plays the same all the time.  Heifetz played the same all the time, and if these guys can do it, so can anybody else because we’re all the same.  We have the same ability to concentrate, we have the same ability to stand there and really train ourselves to do it.  Of course, there are not many people whose personal makeup
or soul, if you like to saycan transcend the music in the same way as Horowitz or Heifetz or Maria Callas do.  This is a very important thingwhen you listen to a recording, you don’t only hear the technical bits, you also hear the person’s soul.  There’s no doubt about it, even those these people are dead, they don’t fail to move you, even on a piece of plastic.

BD:   Then, where is the balance between this technical ability to get all the notes right, and the artistic influence that you put into each piece?

JG:   That’s a difficult question because I practice in the same way as a singer or a violin player.  When they sing, singers practice to try and get it like it is the concert.  Violin players certainly do that.  String players certainly play like it is on the Carnegie Hall stage all the time, and that’s what I do.  There’s a lot of wind players who play everything sort of mezzo forte, or piano, and they think when they get to the concert they’ll give it the works.  Then, they get to the concert, they find the works are not happening because they didn’t practice the works.  You have to practice doing it, and getting things in focus.  I learned a tremendous amount from Callas, because when she sings the low notes, she’s always in focus.  All the intonation is perfect when she goes down to those low notes.  Other singers are not, and you can hear this.  I learned how to focus my embouchure so that I get the notes in tune and with a good sound all the time.

BD:   Is this is the advice you have for other flutists
to try and sing the flute?

JG:   No, they should move their embouchure, and not expect an instrument that’s made in a factory to be the standard, because the intonation’s different all the time.  You have to listen and train yourself to hear perfect intonation.  I was just thinking the other day that a real curse in this profession now is the invention of this little gadget for tuning.

BD:   The electronic tuning box?

JG:   Yes.  It’s the worst thing ever.  People play in tune with that, and they don’t develop their ear.

BD:   You think it’s a crutch?

JG:   Yes, yes!  There are fine orchestras with great intonation.  You can hear records of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra before that thing was invented, and these people play perfectly in tune.  Throw the box away, because no flute is made perfectly in tune.  You really have to move your lips and your whole body to get the thing in tune.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Does the size of the house, or the acoustics of the house, change anything as far as how you attack notes or phrasing?

JG:   Yes.  Here in Chicago, at such a great concert hall, you can play so soft and you can play with an incredible soft tone.  You can also change the tone, whereas if you were playing in somewhere like Avery Fisher Hall, you just go in there and play, and hope that something happens, because it’s not a great acoustic.  You hope that the feeling of your spirit will get across, whereas here, you stand a chance of making an absolutely spectacular performance because of all these colors you can get, and you can maneuver the house.  Horowitz always talked about this when he played.  He always adjusted his playing slightly for the house.

galway BD:   Is there anything you can do to overcome a bad acoustic?

JG:   Yeah, don’t go back!  [Much laughter]  I have a number of concert halls on the hit list that I never go to, not even for money, because you can go to a good one for money.

BD:   I assume that you’re at the point where you can pick and choose which ones you will go to?

JG:   [Briefly hesitates]  No, you see there are so many of them in the whole country.  America is blessed by its size and number of concert halls, so even if you’re not up there in the stars, so to speak, you can still choose not to go to a certain place.  Very early on in my career I had a list of these places, and I didn’t go to them.  I’ve never been to some places.

BD:   Some of these were when you were touring with ‘Herbie’s Band’ [knowing that this is how Galway had sometimes referred to the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan]?

JG:   [Laughs]  Touring with Herbie’s Band, you didn’t have a choice.  You just got on the train, got off and played, and got back on, and that was that.

BD:   But I would think you would learn the acoustics of each hall.

JG:   Yes.  When we did tour in America, we only played in Boston, the Kennedy Center in Washington, and Carnegie Hall.

BD:   What about the concert halls in Europe
are they basically different, or basically the same as the ones you find here?

JG:   There you have a great variety of them.  The concert halls in Austria, generally speaking, are very good, even the new ones.  For example, the Bruckner Hall in Linz, that one’s a good one, and of course, the Vienna Singverein is magnificent.  Then you have places like the Royal Festival Hall.  I don’t like to kick my old stamping ground, but it’s really not the greatest.  Then we have the Barbican, which is better, but the natural amplification of the house in the Barbican is not right, because when the orchestra plays loud, it distorts.  I’ve been to some concerts in the Barbican, and I’m talking from an audience point of view.  When you hear the orchestra and it plays loud, it distorts because the acoustics of the house don’t let you play loud.  You can only go to a certain point.

BD:   There’s nothing they can do with the hall to restructure it inside, or put in some acoustical panels?

JG:   Well, I don’t know, but it all costs money.  They’ve done their bit there, and that’s it I suppose.  For example, when the Chicago Symphony goes on tour, I heard them play in the Royal Albert Hall, and it was really incredible.  They played a Bruckner symphony with Sir Georg, and their sound was really incredible.  I could imagine if they were in the Barbican, as soon as they hit the first fortissimo the whole place would be shattering around.  You wouldn’t hear this famous clear-cut beautiful tone of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

BD:   You’ve played with the Berlin Philharmonic, and now you’ve played with the Chicago Symphony, and you’ve heard all of these major orchestras.  Is the Chicago Symphony all it’s cracked up to be?

JG:   Oh, you bet your boots it is!  It’s a really terrific orchestra, I have to say.

BD:   Do you play better when you’re in front of one of the great orchestras of the world?

JG:   Yes, you do because the whole picture is clearer and better in focus.  For example, when it comes to the point in the Pied Piper, just before the Burgher’s Chorale, there’s a very, very soft high part for the flute and strings, and this is always perfectly in tune.  I just heard it with the Baltimore Symphony, and it was dead in tune with those guys, too.  But if you do it around with some of the other orchestras, they don’t get this clarity.  In the case of the Baltimore, it’s only because David Zinman really insists.  He will say,
Look!  Come on you guys, [much laughter] and that’ll be that.  He can do it on the fiddle too!  This is what I fail to understand in America.  There’s a lot of talk about second row orchestras.  I think they’re really good, the second row orchestras, as they call them, because compared to European orchestras, like all these German radio orchestras that are supposed to be so going around the place, they don’t even begin to stand up to the Baltimore Symphony, or Cincinnati as well.  These orchestras are really very, very good.  I would be very proud to go out and say that I come from Cincinnati and we have a great orchestra... or that I come from Chicago or Cleveland... well, I wouldn’t come from Chicago because I couldn’t stand the cold!  [Much raucous laughter]  I think the best way to listen to the Chicago Symphony is on a CD in the warmth of Hawaii.  [More laughter]  I’m not a great lover of the cold.


BD:   Singers have to take care of their throats, so do you have to take special care of your embouchure in the hot weather and the cold weather, in the dry and the moist?

JG:   Yes, I do.  Traveling a lot on airplanes, and spending a lot of time in hotels, the whole mucous gets dried out.  So, I have a special ointment which you can buy in most chemists, and you just apply it in your nose and on your lips.  A lot of people use this ‘Chap Stick’, but I never use it.  That’s a death for flute players because you put it on, and the thing is hard, and as you rub it on your lips it tears a bit of skin off.  It’s better to get a cream that’s soft, and apply it with the finger.  You should do it after you’re finished playing the flute.

BD:   Not before?

JG:   No, because it gets too greasy before.  You do it when you go out in the cold, for example.

BD:   So, it’s to protect you from the cold, rather than help the playing?

JG:   Yes.  Now in the case of taking care of the throat, it’s not so serious for me as it is, for example, for Mr. Pavarotti.  [More laughter]  I don’t have to sing the high notes.  I wish I could.

BD:   Do you play the high notes better when you’re feeling better, or can you still get over them if you have a cold?

JG:   You can get over them if you have a cold, but it’s uncomfortable.  Whereas I can get over it, I can get away with it, a singer could never do it.

*     *     *     *     *

galway BD:   There are Irish tenors.  Are you an Irish flute player?

JG:   I don’t know, but I’m certainly not an Irish tenor-type flute player.

BD:   What’s an Irish tenor-type flute player?

JG:   Irish tenors are people who sing like old records of John McCormack, and they actually imitate him.  An Irish flute player imitates old flute players.

BD:   Old Irish flute players, or just old flute players?

JG:   Yes.  [Both laugh]  If you play traditional music on the flute, and you play on a flute like I’ve got, a lot of these traditional players say it’s no good, and it doesn’t sound right.  Of course it doesn’t sound right.  It sounds better!  [More laughter]

BD:   Is traditional music supposed to sound perfect?

JG:   No, but it’s better if it does.  That’s why they have these competitions of people who play the tin whistle, for example, and some of them are incredible.  For some of the ones who play flute, it’s really incredible how they play.  But it is a different conception, and I prefer to have my conception based upon modern life performances of Pavarotti, or recordings of Callas, rather than the John McCormacks of this world, because they sing with the sentiment which, to my ear, is long gone.

BD:   [Genuinely surprised]  Really???  We’ve lost the sentiment???

JG:   No, we’ve lost the sentiment of the age.

BD:   Is there a new sentiment replacing what we have lost?

JG:   Yes!  Whitney Houston!  [More raucous laughter!]  I don’t know, but now we’re in an age where it’s developed.  We’re talking about fifty years later, and it has definitely changed from the singers who sang even twenty years before Caruso.

BD:   When Caruso made his debut at the Met in 1903, the critics pined for Jean de Reszke.

JG:   If there exist records of these people, it would be very interesting to hear how they sang, and compare it to how the next generation sings, and the next generation sings.  [No commercial recordings exist of Jean de Reszke.  His voice can only be heard (very poorly) on a few cylinders made by Lionel Mapleson during performances at the Met in 1901-03.]

BD:   Are they getting better or are they just different?

JG:   They’re turning into absolute power houses, and it’s quite amazing how different it is how they sing.

BD:   Are the flute players of this generation better than twenty years ago, fifty years ago, a hundred years ago?

JG:   Definitely, definitely, without any doubt.

BD:   How so?

galway JG:   Just by the fact that they listen to records, and they achieve that standard in their twenties.  Then they bring it up a bit, and the next lot go up to that by listening to records, and so on.  Also, the teaching has become more explicit.  Fifty years ago, people would ask if they should play with vibrato or not, and inquire about how to do this.  Often, they would just try it.  People used to play long tones.  I don’t play ‘long tones’.  I play shorter ones, because even if you can play a long tone for the rest of the week, unless you change it, it ain’t going to get better!  So, you have to change it like a singer.  A singer doesn’t stand and go [humming a constant tone to demonstrate] for half an hour.  They change it, and flute players are now beginning to do the same thing.  We’re beginning to find out that it’s better to change the note, and not play these long tones, as they were known.

BD:   I assume, though, that you have to have the technique to play the long tone, but then play it better and differently?

JG:   Yes, you have to look for the best place.  Your practice should be one of experimentation and exploration, rather than just a fixed point.  The embouchure for the flute, for example, should not be fixed, as we thought it was in the old days, because the target is always moving, and you should move with it.  The pitch of D-sharp in B major is quite different from E-flat in A-flat major.  It’s a different horse altogether.

BD:   So, you don’t use
‘equal temperament all the time?

JG:   No, you can’t use the made-in-the-factory intonation.  It just doesn’t work.  That’s why some orchestras sound absolutely tremendous, because some guys in the brass section really play with perfect intonation all the time.  They don’t just put down a valve, and let that be it.

BD:   Is the audience picking up on the subtle differences between D-sharp and E-flat?

JG:   I think they surely are.  Yes, they know when it’s in tune or out of tune, and certainly the young kids do.  They come up these days, and they’re really good at listening to things.

BD:   Are you glad when you see lots of young people at your concerts?

JG:   Oh, yes!

BD:   Do you play anything special for them, or do you just play the old classics?

JG:   No, I just go along and do what I have to do.  Concerts that I plan are always different.  I don’t always plan to do a serious concert, or I don’t always plan to do a pop concert.  On the 4th of July, I’m going to play in Washington, and I’m only going to play Mancini, but it’s not just going to be conducted by Henry Mancini.  Henry plays the flute [shown in photo above-left]!  Wait till you hear our encore, it’s riot!  Seventy-Six Trombones arranged for two flutes!  [Much laughter]  That’s a fun thing.  But during the season you have to look after the real classical music lover, and you have to present music that is of a more serious vein.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Now, here in Chicago you’re presenting this new work by Corigliano.  Aside from the dramatics, how is this different than playing something by Mercadante or Mozart?

galway JG:   Even without the dramatics, it’s a more serious piece.  Everybody thinks the Pied Piper Fantasy is a fun piece, when in actual fact, the story of the Pied Piper is a Mediaeval horror show.  This guy comes along and says he’ll get rid of the rats, and they agree to pay the money.  Then, they don’t pay him the money, so he takes away the real life of the whole town by removing all the children.  Imagine a town with nobody under twenty-five!  Everybody thinks this Pied Piper is a fun guy because he’s dressed up in all his colors, but he’s not funny at all.  He’s a very, very serious fellow.

BD:   Is this a Morality Play?

JG:   [Laughs]  Who knows?  The last line of the whole poem says
it’s better to give up your purse than to break your word.  But to answer your question, doing Mercadante is something like playing an opera, so you have to play in a different style.  When he wrote this Pied Piper, John developed a lot of curious flute things.  He wanted it very different from the normal conception of beautiful flute playing.

BD:   Doesn’t bother you to play something that’s not ‘beautiful’?

JG:   No, because you’re going after a different sort of sensation.  You know you’re going after a horror thing when I do all these noises [makes sounds imitating rats].  It’s like you’re killing the rats, and you can only kill a rat when you go and get’em.  [More laughter]

BD:   You’re not killing the music by using these noises?

JG:   No, because these effects are written into the music.

BD:   How far can effects go before they start destroying music, or destroying flute playing?

JG:   I don’t really know, but I do know that what John wrote is playable, and it’s very effective.  I am coming in playing the Piper’s tune at the beginning, a beautiful lyrical tune, and then there are all sorts of bits where I go to war with the rats.  Then there is a cadenza, because you’ve got to have a cadenza!  [Gales of laughter]  So I have this war cadenza where I definitely kill the rats, until they come creeping back.  Then I have a passage where the orchestra plays very roughly.  They play this Burgher’s March, and they have this motif that goes ‘Bing, Bing, Bing!’ with the bass trombone and tuba, and pianos and things making this very loud noise.  In the mean time, I’m playing very sweetly to begin with, and pleading with the orchestra,
Hey, come on, you guys, look!  We made a deal.  Please pay me my money!  Then they don’t pay, so I begin to get a bit angry, and I start making fun of them [makes a squawking noise].  John uses this as a bridge to the children’s march, because the whole orchestra will go [makes more noisy demonstrations like a bad car horn, and then quieter sounds].  It’s a very well-put-together composition.

BD:   It sounds very dramatic.

JG:   Yes, it is, and then the kids come on and play their flutes, and everybody thinks,
This is grand.  This is the real Galway, but they don’t know what’s going to happen next because we all go prancing off, playing our little march, while the orchestra plays the first melody that I played when I come in, but one octave lower on the violas and cellos.  It’s terribly moving because the people remember this tune, and it’s a very tender how they play it.  There’s nothing to stop this Piper taking these kids away.

BD:   Did you commission this piece?

JG:   Yes.

BD:   When you give a commission to a composer, do you just say to write a piece for flute, or do you give any guidelines?

JG:   No!  [Laughs]  You ask him if he’d write a piece, and if he’s really honest he’ll say,
Yes, I would like to write a piece, but I can’t, or I would like to write a piece but I don’t want to.  In John’s case, he said he couldn’t think of a good scheme.  So by eight months later, he called me up and said he’d gotten this good idea about the Pied Piper, and he explained the whole thing.  Then he came over to Europe, and we hung out for a bit, and he actually wrote the first part of the concerto in my home in Switzerland.  But the idea was sparked off in the mind of Lenny Bernstein, and I think Lenny is dead peeved that John’s piece has really gone into the repertoire, and his Halil hasn’t.  I have to get around to playing Halil one day, but I have to study it and see what I can do.  I would like to play it for Lenny.  [As of May, 2019, when this interview was being prepared for the website, Galway had not yet played the work.]

Bernstein dedicated Halil “to the spirit of Yadin Tenenbaum and his fallen brothers.” Tanenbaum was an Israeli flute student killed in his tank close to the Suez Canal during the 1973 war. The title Halil is the Hebrew word for flute. The work dates from 1981, and runs sixteen minutes.

It is scored for solo flute, piccolo and alto flute, timpani, five percussionists (four snare drums, bass drum, four tom toms, a pair of cymbals, high and low crash cymbals, high and low gongs, chimes, tam-tam, high and low triangles, four woodblocks, whip, xylophone, glockenspiel, and vibraphone), harp, and strings. In the 1987 version for flute, piano, and percussion the timpani becomes optional and the keyboard percussion parts (xylophone, glockenspiel, and vibraphone) are eliminated. Bernstein notes, “Piccolo and Alto Flute, in the orchestral version, must sound from a distance and be unseen.”

Halil is formally unlike any other work I have written, but it is like much of my music in its struggle between tonal and non-tonal forces. In this case I sense that struggle as involving wars and the threats of wars, the overwhelming desire to live and the consolations of art, love, and the hope for peace. I never knew Yadin Tannenbaum, but I know his spirit.”

--  Leonard Bernstein  

BD:   With all of this material, and especially since you’re adding to the repertoire, how do you decide which pieces you will play in each season, and which you’ll let go?

JG:   First of all, the commissions take care of what we’re going to do new in concert.  For example, coming up in October this year with the tour of Russia and the Pittsburgh Symphony with Lorin Maazel will be the Marc Neikrug Concerto.  Next February will be an Australian concerto by Richard Mills, and later on that year, a concerto by John McCabe with the London Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas conducting.  So that takes care of the new works, but in between I’m doing other new works as well.  I’m going to make a record of the Quantz concertos this coming June or July, and then I’m making a record called The Best of the Baroque in August, which will be things like Sheep May Safely Graze.  Then, I’m making the CPE Bach concertos in November.  So, it’s always quite interesting.  There’s always things happening, and this Quantz business is very funny because aside from playing one on tour with the Irish Chamber Orchestra, I haven’t played a Quantz concerto since I was a kid.  I was practicing the other day, and I thought,
“Boy, when I learned these as a child, it was quite a mechanical thing.”  I was doing [demonstrates with a robotic voice], and then I thought, How am I going to do this? [He demonstrates again in a more musical way]  Maybe now I should be a little different, and figure out a way to get it more musical.  It’s quite interesting, and it really keeps you going.

BD:   What is it about all of these pieces that makes it musical?

JG:   I don’t know, but I know one thing, and that is when they play, a lot of people accent everything.  For example, if it’s written in 4/4, you go [sings a heavy four meter], but that is not how it should be done.  Horowitz and all my other mentors don’t do it.  They don’t put that kind of accent in there.  In fact, they get rid of them.  The accents should only be put in when it’s written by the composer.


BD:   Don’t just clobber the first beat of the bar?

galway JG:   Yes, but it’s traditional because when you’re a little kid, and you go along for a flute lesson, and your teacher has a hangover from the day before, you start playing your tune and he says, [gruffly] Play an accent on the first note of each bar!  [Demonstrates such exaggerated accents amid much laughter]  So you go away thinking that’s it.  The other thing is the breathing, which is also traditional from childhood, because you have to figure out a way to show a twelve-year old student how to play.  For example, let us take a slow movement of a Bach sonata.  You know very well that this child will not be able to manage the breathing like an adult, so you have to figure breaths.  But then the trouble is they grow up, and in the meantime they don’t take the breaths out.  They keep them in.

BD:   [With a not-so-gentle nudge]  Then they listen to your recording of the Paganini and wonder how he did that!  [Gales of laughter]  Did you eliminate all the breaths?  I counted two...

JG:   Yes, there’s a couple in there, that’s true.  Very good!  [More laughter]  It’s an amazing thing, because [conductor] Charles Gerhardt didn’t refer to the recording to hit the speed.  He just did it.  When we’d stop if somebody drops a bow, or the other one kicks over the stand, it takes quite some time to get going again.  So we would record a stretch, stop, go back, record over that, stop, go back...

BD:   ...and it was always the correct tempo?

JG:   Yes!

BD:   It sounds like he had a little metronome inside his head.

JG:   Well, that’s what I thought!  [More gales of laughter]  He did a very good job on it.

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BD:   Is playing the flute fun?

JG:   I think it is, but I just think being alive is rather fun.  I get inspired all the time.  I like to be doing things, and I don’t get bogged down with the routine of life that a lot of people do.  When he was dying, John Wayne said,
It’s better to be alive on a rainy day than dead on a sunny one.  I thought since this is my big hero from the silver screen talking, that’s how it should be.  He made one movie after the other, and he always appeared to be on top of things.

BD:   So is this what you’re doing
making one concert after another?

JG:   No, but I do a lot of concerts, that’s for sure.  One of these days I will have to work out how many I do in a year, because people have been asking me that for the last twenty years.

BD:   No matter how many you’ve been doing, do you get enough time to rest?

JG:   Yes, I do.   I’m the world’s greatest sleeper.  You’re looking right at him!  If somebody doesn’t talk to me for five minutes, and I don’t have anything to do
like read, or watch TV, or play the fluteI just fall asleep.  When an airplane takes off, I’m gone.  [Much laughter]

BD:   Are you coming back to Chicago?

JG:   I hope so.  You know, my long-standing colleague, Philip Moll comes from Chicago.  So, I hope we’re going to come back and do a recital.


Born in Chicago, Phillip Moll lives in Berlin, working as an accompanist and ensemble pianist and collaborating with such diverse artists as Kyung Wha Chung, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Sir James Galway, Kurt Moll (!), and Jessye Norman. He has performed and recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the German Symphony Orchestra, the RIAS Chamber Choir and the Berlin Radio Choir. Performances have taken him throughout Europe, North America and the Far East.

After receiving degrees in English from Harvard University and in music from the University of Texas, and following a year at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich, Moll was employed as a repetiteur by the German Opera in Berlin until 1978. Since then he has been active as an accompanist and ensemble pianist, and beginning in 2004 he has held a professorship for song interpretation at the Leipzig Hochschule.

BD:   You’re about to have a fiftieth birthday.  Do you have any reflections on that?

JG:   No.  I haven’t got the time to reflect.  I just have too many things to do to be reflective on years.  [Smiles]  Well, getting around to it, if I thought I was going to live this long, maybe I wouldn’t have drunk so much!   [Much laughter]

BD:   Do you also play alto flute and bass flute?

JG:   No, and I don’t baroque flute.  I’m a real Boehm flute player.

boehm The Boehm system is a system of keywork for the flute, created by inventor and flautist Theobald Boehm [pictured at left] between 1831 and 1847.

Prior to the development of the Boehm system, flutes were most commonly made of wood, with an inverse conical bore, eight keys, and tone holes that were small in size, and thus easily covered by the fingertips. Boehm's work was inspired by an 1831 concert in London, given by soloist Charles Nicholson who, with his father in the 1820s, had introduced a flute constructed with larger tone holes than were used in previous designs. This large-holed instrument could produce greater volume of sound than other flutes, and Boehm set out to produce his own large-holed design.

In addition to large holes, Boehm provided his flute with "full venting", meaning that all keys were normally open. Previously, several keys were normally closed, and opened only when the key was operated. Boehm also wanted to locate tone holes at acoustically optimal points on the body of the instrument, rather than locations conveniently covered by the player's fingers. To achieve these goals, Boehm adapted a system of axle-mounted keys with a series of "open rings" (called brille, German for "eyeglasses", as they resembled the type of eyeglass frames common during the 19th century) that were fitted around other tone holes, such that the closure of one tone hole by a finger would also close a key placed over a second hole.

I do play the alto flute from time to time.  There’s a fantastic concerto written by Henri Lazarof (which nobody in this country has played), and I can’t understand why, because it’s a terrific piece.  I recorded it with Henri conducting, with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and it’s on CRI records, if you want to fish it out and play it.  [Note: I did air it at least once on WNIB.]  Henri was in Berlin at the time when I met him, and he wrote this piece for me, and I premiered it with the Berlin Philharmonic, and then we recorded it later in London.

BD:   I’m a big fan of new American music, but I don’t have an interview yet with Lazarof.  I’ll have to track him down.

JG:   Oh, you should talk to him.  He’s a most interesting fellow.

BD:   I’d like to.  He’s on my hit list. 
[The interview with Lazarof was done three years later, in April of 1992.]  I have a whole list of people I’m trying to get in touch with.

JG:   This is like me!  I have a hit list of composers to go down and ask them to write a concerto.  It’s an interesting thing, on the night that I met John Corigliano, I asked him to write a flute concerto.  Another time, I was at a party in New York and Samuel Barber was there.  He got on the hit list immediately, and I asked him if he’d write a concerto.  He said he didn’t feel well enough to take on such a major thing, but told me to play the Violin Concerto on the flute.  He said,
You could transcribe that very well.

BD:   So he gave you permission right there to transcribe it!

JG:   Yes, but I haven’t done that so far, either.  But that’s coming up in the cards, because I have to do it.


BD:   Are there any composers that you would not commission?

JG:   [Without hesitation]  Ah, yes.

BD:   You don’t need to name names, but what is it about Composer X that you would not want to have them write for you?

JG:   There’s a certain gang of experimental composers, and you can’t tell which nationality they are, or where they come from, or if the music was influenced by a human being, like their mother, or not!  They write just sounds...

BD:   ...unrelated sounds?

JG:   Yes.  I have a big problem in that direction because I don’t know, when I start to play the piece, should it be heroic?  Should it be calm?  Should it be brilliant?  Should it mezzo?  How should the expression be?  These are things that are left out of modern composers’ vocabulary, words like doloroso.  You don’t see those sorts of words any more, and then you don’t have any guide to the music.  If I can’t interpret it, if I don’t know if I’m telling a joke or not, how’s the public going to know how to react?  So, they’re the kind of composers I leave out.

galway BD:   When you perform pieces of music, you know how you want to interpret then.  Does that style, or do those ideas change after ten, or fifteen, or twenty years?

JG:   Yes, they do.  They expand and get better in that direction, because it’s quite clear how you should play them.  Take, for example, the Dance of the Blessed Spirits.  The middle section, when it goes into D minor, should be more reflective, softer than the very beginning, which is in F major.  You have to work out all these things in advance, and you have to practice playing F major up, even if it’s a rainy day.  Then, if you want to go and play football, you still have to practice the D minor section, and you have to practice playing very soft.  Your innermost thoughts apply to that piece.

BD:   And this deepens and grows all the time?

JG:   Yes, it does, and you get the hang of doing this, even under any circumstances.  It’s the same, for example, when you go to church, and the old vicar stands up there, and he tells you something happy.  Then, the next minute, he turns around and says that so and so died.  The newsreaders know how to do this.  They know how to put the expression into their voices, and we should know how to put the expression into the flute, and not just go playing everything with a nice sound, as everybody says.  That’s the most insulting thing I ever heard, when somebody says that I’ve got a nice sound.

BD:   That misses ninety-nine per cent of what you’re doing!

JG:   [Smiles, and pats the interviewer on the shoulder]

BD:   I think that every day we get to hear your play is a sunny day.

JG:   Well, I hope so, thank you!

BD:   One last question.  Is it flutist, or flautist, or flute player?

JG:   You know the difference?  About twenty-five thousand dollars!  [Gales of laughter]  It used to be a hundred bucks in the old days, but inflation has taken care of the difference between a flute player and a flautist.

BD:   Which do you prefer?

JG:   I don’t mind.  In the American language I like it how the people speak, and all the different versions you have.  Some of them are totally incomprehensible.  I like to say flutist in America, and I think flutist is a more descriptive word than flautist.  If you say somebody is a flautist, you have no idea exactly what they do, because everybody says oboist, or bassoonist, but flautist???

BD:   [With a wink]  But we don
t say singist!

JG:   No that’s different!  That’s a hundred grand there!  [Gales of laughter]

BD:   Thank you so much for spending the time with me today.  I appreciate it.

JG:   A pleasure.




© 1989 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, on April 21, 1989.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB later that year, and again in 1990, 1994 and 1999.  This transcription was made in 2019, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.