The Austin Symphony Orchestra With Sir James Galway and Lady Jeanne Galway

The great flutist made Dell Hall his home and seemed to be playing for old friends

Arts Review

The Austin Symphony With Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway

Dell Hall at the Long Center

Feb. 27

For two hours Friday night, Dell Hall was a patch of turf in Éire.

Not because the Austin Symphony and guest soloist Sir James Galway loaded the program with music of the Emerald Isle – though, yes, "Danny Boy" was played, but a fresher and more heart-piercing take on that sweet old chestnut you could not hope to hear – but because Galway made that hall his home. From the moment he appeared onstage, the celebrated flutist was as relaxed and casual as if he were in his living room. His loose stance as he played – knees cocked, sometimes leaning forward, all his weight on one foot, sometimes tilting back on one heel – his teasing glances at the orchestra, his flirtations with his wife during their flute duets, his pause to leisurely clean his glasses with a rag midconcerto were all testament to his refusal to stand on ceremony and to treat the audience and his fellow musicians as dear friends in intimate surroundings.

However, don't confuse casual and intimate with laid-back and lackadaisical. When Galway put the flute to his lips, the force with which he commanded the instrument was striking. The breath going into the mouthpiece – which could be heard clearly throughout the evening – was as strong and constant as a wind across the plains, and it fired the music with palpable passion. In the Mozart D-major Flute Concerto, Galway was so intent, his tone so steady and full, that his solos took on the character of a lone lark before daybreak, determined to single-handedly sing the entire world from darkness into light. He could draw forth the moodiest and most melancholy of sounds – notes of wistful remembrance and regret, as in the Flute Concerto's "Adagio ma non troppo" and "Danny Boy" – but most of the time Galway was a presence bold and bright, like the blinding flashes of light reflecting off his golden flute, a musical figure capering nimbly across the scales.

The sense of this was amplified when Lady Jeanne Galway joined her husband for the Cimarosa Concerto in G for Two Flutes and Chamber Orchestra. Elegant in a glittering evening gown, ever poised and composed, the statuesque lady exhibited the kind of stately presence and formality that one associates with a classical soloist. Beside her, Sir James appeared even more of an anomaly, a concert-hall performer with only the slightest regard for the concert hall's traditions of dress and manner. And yet, as different as they were in appearance and demeanor, the moment the two flutists began playing together, you could tell they were a match. Their tones, their pacing, the emotional colors of their playing, occasionally even their movements, were all beautifully in sync, and when their parts separated and wove in and around each other, it called to mind a pair of butterflies in a fluttering dance through the air on a spring day.

Indeed, perhaps it was the playful interaction between him and her, perhaps it was the unseasonably warm weather that day, or perhaps it was simply Sir James' green tie and Lady Jeanne's daffodil-colored gown, but the entire concert had the air of spring about it. A lightness colored almost every musical selection, even the Haydn "Military" Symphony that opened the program. Maestro Peter Bay might have been baking a soufflé; he put such effort into keeping the work airy and bright. Following his smiling, bouncy lead on the podium, the musicians all seemed to be playing on the balls of their feet. It left whatever martial authority the work may have once projected faded in the background, while the music's brighter, more colorful elements rose to the fore. That set a sunny tone for the evening and the entrance of the Galways, particularly the "King of Flutes," Sir James.

Now that I've seen him in concert, though, that nickname seems a misnomer. Not because he isn't a master of the instrument – that he emphatically is – but because he hasn't a whiff of royalty about him. He's a neighbor, a pal, quick with a joke and a pat on the back, inviting us into his home to listen to him play for a spell.

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Austin Symphony Orchestra, Sir James Galway, Lady Jeanne Galway, Peter Bay

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