Whether it’s a celebration or a wake, Birmingham Conservatoire’s two-month-long City of Sounds festival is now underway, heralding the regrettable demolition of the Adrian Boult Hall after 30 years hosting hundreds of amazing events.
Of which the most recent came on Sunday afternoon, when Sir James Galway brought his golden flute to a packed auditorium for a recital of goodies, preceding masterclasses and workshops to be given the next day.
There was nothing really substantial in his attractive programme (no Poulenc, no Prokofiev, no Syrinx, for example), but a delightful sequence of bonnes bouches genially introduced by your man himself.
Highlights were the Concertino by Cecile Chaminade, which grows more delicious every time I hear it, and the amazing Rigoletto Fantasy by the Doppler brothers, obviously inspired by Liszt’s piano fantasy on Verdi’s opera, but now exploiting the possibilities of duetting flutes.
Galway was joined for this by his wife Lady Jeanne, their golden flutes markedly differentiating in tonal colour (possibly helped by the fact that the Lady holds her instrument horizontally, her Knight sloping his towards the floor), but their phrasing and interaction displaying a heartwarming empathy.
Somehow these flute-players (Galway hates the term “flautist”, and I cannot bring myself to use the American “flutist”) manage to make their instruments sound like more than a duet, melody-notes picked out among exotic trilling textures, and shade their tones to sound now brilliant, now warmly intimate.
And together they shared a wonderful rapport with accompanist Anna Marshall, her pianism finely attuned to the soloists’ phrasing, and richly encompassing the taxing demands of her allegedly supporting role.
After his final encore, Danny Boy, which he described as “like a prayer”, Sir James received an Honorary Doctorate from Birmingham City University.
In his acceptance speech he emphasised how frequently Birmingham has figured in his performing career, and reminded us that exactly half-a-century ago he was joint winner of the city’s International Wind Competition hosted by the CBSO.
It was fitting that now, 50 years later, the city should be awarding this engaging, effortlessly persuasive Pied Piper another well-deserved accolade.