How We Met: Marisa Robles and James Galway
Sunday 10 April 1994
From the moment he arrived at my house and said, 'Hi] I'm James Galway,' I felt as though I'd known him all my life. I'm a great believer in destiny. Jimmy and I should have met earlier that year because I was working on a TV series for Ulster Television and he was supposed to be my guest on the last programme. Derek Bailey, the producer, told me that in his opinion, James Galway, a boy from Belfast, who was a wonderful flautist with a marvellous personality, was going to be a big star. In the end, there was a strike at Ulster TV, and the programme was cancelled so we never met. When we did our first concert, at the Odeon Cinema in Swiss Cottage, a string broke on my harp. It was reported in some of the newspapers.
There was even a Spanish journalist there who sent a report to Madrid which appeared with the headline 'Marisa Robles almost strangled by harp string'. The next day I had a lot of phone calls from my family in Spain, who were terribly worried about me. In a previous incarnation I think Mozart wrote the Concerto for Flute and Harpthink roman just for me and Jimmy. The two of us have played it together more than any other musicians in the world. Ours is probably the longest-standing musical relationship of all.
We we're both spontaneous and never get bored with our audience. We want to talk to them, because they're the people we make music for. This Next summer, we have a very exciting project we've been asked to do two concerts at Kensington Palacefor whom?sept 9 and 10 in orangery at kensington palace, part of stately homes music festival, lst duo recital for over 20 years At the moment Jimmy and I are discussing the programme, which I hope will include some of the duets we used to play all those years ago.
It's funny how things work out. After Jimmy recorded 'Annie's Song' he became much more famous than me. Even now, when taxi-drivers talk to me and I mention half a dozen musicians, the only one they've ever heard of is Jimmy. 'Ah, Jimmy Galway. He's the Irish flute player, isn't he?' they say. After that they start taking me seriously, so just for that reason alone, working with Jimmy all these years has been a good investment]
Jimmy doesn't drive, so I often do the driving. Even when I get lost he never makes me feel stupid. He'll say something like, 'That was such a
nice roundabout Marisa, why don't we just go round it again?' Like me, behind all the joking, Jimmy's quite a spiritual person. One day we were driving somewhere and he was just sitting in the car, smoking his pipe, marvelling at the sunset. 'Marisa, look at that,' he kept saying. 'How is it the world's in such trouble when you can look at something so peaceful as that?'
I tend to look after Jimmy, even to the point of powdering his nose before we go on stage so his face doesn't look too shiny. Sometimes I feel like a mother to him. There are times when I also need looking after, and he's always been there for me, although sometimes he's not very sympathetic. I remember being with him in Paris for a concert. I'd never played in Paris before and I was very nervous. He turned round and said, 'Marisa, we don't have time to be nervous,' which was probably just what I needed.
Sometimes I feel like a mother to Jimmy. We were touring the East Coast of America a few years ago and each day, when we set off for a new venue, he sat with me in the back of the limousine and fell asleep with his head on my knees. I used to travel in a pair of fine-knit ribbed trousers so each time we arrived at the next destination, Jimmy woke up with the pattern of my trousers all down the side of his face.
When he was in a wheelchair I used to carry his flute for him, and wheel him around everywhere. At the end of one tour, in Amsterdam, he was very tired. After one of the concerts there, we were sitting in a restaurant which had ballroom music playing from a radio. Jimmy was enjoying the music and told me thathe wished he could get up and dance. I moved all the chairs to make some floor space, and had a little dance with him in his wheelchair.
After his accident, when he spent so long in hospital and had metal pins
put in his legs, Jimmy started to think
much more about everything. Life suddenly became much more precious when he realised how lucky he was not to have been killed.
When I had breast cancer a few years ago, I was forced to take
four months off work. Jimmy wrote to me as soon as he heard that I was
ill. Luckily it was May, and I was able to spend the summer at home, in the garden. During that time I also started to think how silly we musicians are, always trying to do everything. I had a beautiful house, but I'd never really stopped to take the time to appreciate the flowers and the normal everyday things. For people like me and Jimmy, life is a constant round of travelling to different cities to appear in different concert halls, sleep in different hotels and work with different managers and promoters. Once we've finished a concert, both of us just want to get home as quickly as possible.
Each of us is now married for the third time, so ours is a friendship which has had its fair share of good and bad times. For Jimmy, his wife, Jeanne, is the best thing that ever happened to him. Funnily enough, when he did a concert in Washington, my husband David's mother and sister went backstage to meet Jimmy and the first thing he said was, 'David's the best thing that has ever happened to Marisa.' , so in that respect we're comrades as well as friends. Jimmy's a very loyal friend and he knows how to keep a secret.
There was a gap of eight years when we saw very little of each other because he was with the Berlin Phil-harmonic, but afterwards we picked up our friendship as though we'd seen each other yesterday. For me it's the easiest thing in the world to talk about Jimmy, because I feel I know him as well as I know myself. I've kept all of the letters he's ever written to me. over the years.
As a musician, he's one of the most disciplined people I know. He's utterly professional and gives 100 per cent of himself. Nobody plays the flute as well as Jimmy does. Before we go out on stage, he usually comes into my dressing-room and plays a short cadenza. I can feel his phrasing from the very first moment of a performance. Making music with Jimmy is the most natural thing in the world.
JAMES GALWAY: It's almost 30 years since my first rehearsal with Marisa. We met at her house, and in in Iselworth?, which is where she was living in those days. St John, her eldest son, who kept us company throughout, couldn't have been more than two. We seemed to click immediately. It wasn't just a musical empathy. There was something special about Marisa's personality. and wonderful sense of humour. She has this rare mixture of being both fun-loving and deeply spiritual. We were soul-mates right from the start.
On the night of that first the concert, Marisa broke a string while whilst she was playing. her harp. By that time, we'd been working together long enough to develop a kind of shorthand between us. I realised she was in serious trouble and there was an incomprehensible babble on stage - me with my broad Belfast accent and Marisa's heavily Spanish-accented English. We stopped and I explained to the audience what had happened. Whilst Marisa went off to sort out her harp, I held the fort with Syrynx,library checking a piece by Debussy.
Ours is a sort of funny, wayward friendship. It's one in which We don't really see all that much of each other, because I live in Switzerland and she lives in London. The relationship consists of phone calls, letters, postcards, faxes and visiting each other for Thai food whenever I'm in town. Marisa is, without doubt, one of my closest friends. I can call her up as long as it's after 11am and talk to her about anything. Even though she rattles on about a lot of things, she's a great and loyal friend to have. I feel comfortable telling Marisa many things which I would never tell to anyone else.
In her other life, offstage, Marisa is a wonderful mother, and whenever we tour together she tends to look after me. A long time ago, we were booked to play at one of those horrendous, freezing, upper-class English public schools. I arrived at her house and realised that I didn't have a pair of trousers to wear on stage. Marisa wasn't in the least bothered. She told me to borrow a pair from Christopher, to whom she was then married. He Christopher was also a good friend of mine but he was At 6ft 2in, and his trousers were much too big for me. They literally came up to my breasts./ this is what he said/ , But it was his Christopher's trousers or nothing. Somehow we got managed to get through, the performance, but as I remember, it was a very funny concert.
Musically, Marisa's the best harp player in the world. I've played with many others, butthere's never been anyone to touch her. When we were asked to take part in the Channel 4 Concerto] series, I really didn't want to do it, because the filming schedule clashed with a Scandinavian tour to which I was already committed. I couldn't face the thought of all the travelling to and from London, But I was damned if she was going to play Mozart with another flautist. Over my dead body. In the end, It was horrendous because I had to keep flying in from Norway and Sweden, but For Marisa, I don't suppose it seemed such a big deal. my My journeys didn't take much longer than the time she spends transporting her harp to and from Putney. Her husband, David, with whom I also get on very well, usually checks the arrangements for her harp, so I don't feel guilty about the fact that my only responsibility is a small flute.
Some years ago, after I had a serious road accident, I was in a wheelchair for a long time, which made travelling difficult. I remember one occasion when we were booked to play the Mozart Concerto in Madrid, which is where Marisa made her concert debut at the age of sixteen. 16. We were staying in a rather grand hotel and Marisa's father, who, in those days, was an important man in one of the Government ministries, met us there. Commissionaires and receptionists were bowing and scraping at Professore Robles, as we were ushered in. After all the formalities, When we had finally checked into the hotel, in, Marisa came up to my room to make sure I was all right. The hotel staff were horrified. They announced that women weren't allowed into men's bedrooms, unless they were married to them. We thought it was very funny and Marisa insisted on moving into the room next door to mine. She doesn't stand for any nonsense. In another hotel on the tour, Marisa asked the management to take down the bathroom door because it was too narrow for me to manoeuvre the wheelchair. In Amsterdam, she was pushing me in the bicycle lane, across a bridge, when we suddenly realised bicycles were whisking past and we were in the middle of the road. We had no idea that what we were doing was illegal. Eventually, the police had to stop the traffic for us.
One of the things I love about Marisa is her humour. She's always telling me jokes most of them utterly unrepeatable. If we haven't seen each other for a while she keeps in touch by faxing jokes to me in Switzerland. Shortly after the accident, whilst I was still in traction, she told me a story which was the funniest I'd ever heard. It was fortunate I couldn't move because if I hadn't been in traction I probably would have fallen out of bed laughing. Not many people know this, but she's also very good at juggling. In We were at a restaurant once, and when she picked up three oranges and started juggling. It's something which comes so naturally to her, she couldn't understand why, when I tried, I kept dropping the oranges.
Because of her unique way of speaking English, Marisa can sometimes be very amusing when she talks to the audience. It's part of her appeal.
For our performances, we usually try to and co-ordinate our clothes. I call her up and ask her what colour she's going to wear, and as long as it's not too outrageous, I bring along a matching bow-tie or dinner jacket. We both believe that how we look onstage is important; in this business; some of my colleagues never send their suits or shirts to the dry-cleaners. Frankly, I'm amazed sometimes that their clothes don't walk off the stage without them.
Although whenever we're together we're usually having fun and making jokes, as far as the work goes, the two of us are deeply serious musicians. In the end, the performance, more than anything else, is what matters. We've done the Mozart Concerto together so often that sometimes we despair when a new conductor starts suggesting other ways of playing it. It all goes over our heads. Marisa and I don't even need to look at each other, because we know exactly how it has to be played.
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