Sir James Galway is every inch the charismatic virtuoso, an artist whose smile is as infectious as his music. His onstage charm and overwhelming talent have combined over his 33-year solo career to make him the most famous flautist of all time. This Saturday he’ll be accepting the 2008 University Musical Society Distinguished Artist Award at the 13th Annual Ford Honors Program, held in Hill Auditorium, in honor of his lifetime achievement.

Galway is down-to-earth and warm, but he speaks with confidence.

“I’m very proud to receive this award,” he said. Still, he’s modest about his achievements.

“For a flute player, I’ve done enormously well. Normally, it’s the fellows like my good friend Andrea Bocelli people really want to see, and I’m very happy with how I’ve done.” He ought to be.

When Sir Galway left his position as the principal flautist of the Berlin Philharmonic to start his career as a soloist, the idea of a solo flautist was practically laughable; only Jean-Pierre Rampal preceded him as a soloist, though Galway soon eclipsed him. No other artist of the instrument is so recognizable, so respected or so diverse in his musical pursuits.

During his career, he has recorded numerous albums spanning popular, classical and world music. Galway is particularly known for his ability to bridge the gaps between styles, playing both popular and classical music with equal confidence and elegance. His work has extended even to film, having recently added his breath to the soundtrack for Peter Jackson’s “The Return of the King.”

His place in the pantheon of flautists secure, Galway’s main concerns now center not on his own future as a musician, but the next generation of flautists. He frequently offers master classes, and devotes much of his time to charities such as Flutewise and The Swiss Artistic Foundation. Galway is especially concerned with the direction American classical instruction is heading.

“I feel people aren’t interested,” he said. “I mean, not just in the flute, but in anything. People just aren’t interested in learning.” Galway recently finished a tour of Asia, playing with orchestras in Japan and China and teaching numerous master classes in the process.

“At the classes I would give in Asia, I’d have 500 people show up,” he said. “In America, people come, but it’s nothing like that. You’d think people would be eager to learn, but only a few show up. Never 500.”

It’s a result, Galway speculates, of misplaced ambition on the part of students and poor instruction on the part of their teachers.

“Everyone is looking for a shortcut to success,” Galway said. He is a staunch believer in the classical method, in practicing scales and reciting methods just as much as honing style. According to Galway, there is no “shortcut to success,” only the path paved with hard work.

“These students think that just because the teacher talks about it, they can do it. The truth is, practice makes proficient,” Galway said. It would be easy for a virtuoso to say this and not practice it himself, but that’s not the case with Galway.

“Just this morning I played all the major and minor scales in thirds,” he explained. “I do it every morning.” It’s kept him going this far, and Galway only hopes that future flautists will follow in his footsteps, both in method and success.

Sir James Galway

Saturday, May 10, 6 pm

Hill Auditorium

$10 Student tickets

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