Galway's fans get a soaking-- and don't mind


How much people love the flutist James Galway can be gauged by how willing they are to get wet for him.

Last night during the superstar flutist's appearance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Merriweather Post Pavilion in the final concert of the Columbia Festival of the Arts, it rained. It one was the sort of deluge that can sometimes make one think that Maryland is the subtropics. But most of the people sitting on the lawn did not leave, preferring to get drenched in order to hear Galway play Mozart with the BSO and its music director, David Zinman.

It does not hurt that Galway has the popular touch that all great entertainers must have. When -- between the second and third movements of Mozart's G Major Concerto -- Zinman invited the lawn dwellers to take cover under the pavilion, the flutist improvised an entr'acte: some variations on "Singin' in the Rain." The effect of this on a grateful audience can easily be imagined.

It's nice to be able to say -- as one can almost whenever Galway performs -- that he deserves such adulation. Of the great classical stars who have achieved crossover status, he is one of the very few who continues to take everything he does -- no matter how popular or light-hearted it is -- with the utmost professional seriousness.

Although he has surely played last night's Mozart flute concertos thousands of times, he was miraculously able to make the piece sound fresh and sparkling. And even the somewhat gritty amplified sound of an outdoor concert could not hide the distinctive full-bodied brilliance of his tone.

Joaquin Rodrigo's "Fantasia para un Gentilhombre," which followed, was written for another great crowd-pleasing virtuoso, guitarist Andres Segovia. Galway, of course, played the piece in his own (composer-approved) transcription. But the performance was so idiomatic-sounding and richly colored that it was hard to imagine it being written for an instrument other than Galway's.

On the other parts of the program, Zinman conducted Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" and Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite." So warm, muggy and (eventually) wet a night added to such ordinary perils of outdoor concerts as sirens, impossible-to-maintain intonation and electronic amplification. But conductor and orchestra played these thrice-familiar pieces with uncommon energy and drive.

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