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Sir James Galway: From Tin Whistle To Golden Flute

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sir James Galway is often referred to as The Man with the Golden Flute… and for good reason…

"Its 18-karat gold, gold keys… I think the keys are 14 karat maybe."

But why a golden flute instead of a silver one?

"I think a gold flute has a better attack.  And then also I think it has a lot of colours which you don't have in silver."

Galway didn't always have such expensive tastes.  It's been said he started out on the streets of Belfast playing a penny whistle… or, did he?

"Well you know it's a bit of a myth.  I actually started on a flute and I never played a penny whistle until I was about 20."

But Galway says as a lad he did try to get himself a tin whistle.  That was one of the prizes in the corner store's "lucky dip," a barrell filled with sawdust and goodies. 

"And we couldn't wait til Friday came til we got our pocket money, went up there and had a lucky dip.  We would feel around in the lucky dip, things had all these bags of little toys, you know. And we'd feel around to see which one had a tin whistle in it. But of course it never came to anything because they were cheap tin whistles in this lucky dip.  And they fell to pieces like after two days."

Galway has come a long way since his early years in Belfast.  After studying at London's prestigious Royal College of Music he went on to perform with many of the world's best orchestras, including several years as the principal flute in the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan.

In 1975 Galway made a surprising move, and became one of the first flute players to establish an international career as a soloist.  Galway plays a wide variety of musical styles, but he's always had a soft spot for Mozart's flute works, which is kind of ironic because Mozart, apparently, was not a big fan of the flute.

"You know the flute that Mozart was listening to was a baroque flute with a couple of extra keys.  And at that time nobody had figured out the intonation on it.  And you know you couldn't hear the flutes in Mozart's orchestra."

Tuning and volume will likely not be a problem tonight when Galway performs Mozart's 2nd Flute Concerto with the Fresno Philharmonic. 

The price of gold is soaring these days, but now at the age of 70, the man who plays the golden flute has had a soaring career for decades.

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