From the Top

James Galway And Teens Get To The Heart Of Beethoven

I've had the privilege of knowing the great Sir James Galway, the man with the golden flute, for years. Having performed with Galway throughout my career, I'd been talking with him about coming on From the Top for a long time. We had booked him to come to Portland, Maine, with us last season, when my good friend managed to break both of his arms in a fall at his home.

Our schedules finally aligned, and we managed to get Sir James on our recent From the Top taping in Athens, Ga. I spoke with him after the taping about working with our talented performers and their collaborative performance of Beethoven's Serenade, as seen in the video clip above. —Christopher O'Riley, From The Top

Christopher O'Riley: Jimmy, it was so great to finally have you on From the Top.

James Galway: Well, it was amazing being on the show. But it was a bit like planning a trip to Mars — it took a long time. When I finally got there, I thought, "What a relief." And it was tremendous playing with you again, Chris. Absolutely terrific. I wish we could organize it more often. Why can't you live in Europe? It would be so much easier!

CO: I know! So, what struck you the most about our show?

JG: The absolute gorgeous talent of these children was just amazing.

CO: In addition to playing Poulenc with me, you performed the finale of the Beethoven Serenade for Flute, Violin and Viola with 17-year-old violist Arianna Smith, from Saint Charles, Ill., and 17-year-old violinist Kenneth Renshaw from San Francisco. Tell me about working with these young musicians.

JG: For one, they were so well prepared. It was like working with professional players. Everything fell into place because of the natural instincts these kids have.

CO: You did have some advice for them, though.

JG: I wasn't really coaching them, just encouraging them to get a more European feel about the whole thing.

CO: What do you mean?

JG: This is a bit difficult to explain. But, obviously, Beethoven was a European, and, you know, we Europeans have a way of being with each other that is very different than Americans. There's a certain social intercourse, a way that people meet and greet one another, talk with one another — people still kiss the hand of a lady in Vienna. The Beethoven piece is a serenade, and we needed to do a bit more "serenading."

CO: It's not an easy thing to get inside the head of a composer and be able to perform in such a way that reflects his or her culture, not just the notes on the page.

JG: Exactly. An Italian sings Italian opera very differently than an American does. Likewise, when the New York Philharmonic plays Gershwin or Copland, it knocks you down dead, it's so wonderful. Getting to grips with the real Beethoven or Mozart is hard for these kids because they are not exposed to European culture, and here they are playing European music that has a certain inflection that is different from their American lifestyle. However, despite that, they do so well — remarkably well. Arianna and Kenneth did a marvelous job with this Beethoven, as you can see.

CO: Any words of wisdom for Arianna, Kenneth and all the serious musicians growing up in America?

JG: Yes, come on over and live in Vienna for a bit! Instead of watching television, they can go to the opera every night.

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