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Patrick Gallois

For Patrick Gallois, it all began in a small country town near Lille in the north of France. It sounds an intriguing place, but he won't name it: "The town is so small, no one will have heard of it. It's a place where people do music for fun." That's what his hometown means to the charming and youthful world-class musician. And the town has returned the compliment, further linking Gallois with its music - two years ago they renamed the local music school, where he began his music career with piano lessons when he was seven, after him.

Two years after those first piano lessons, he changed instrument, the first in a life-long series of about takes that have contributed both to his musical versatility and a constant and highly appreciated freshness of approach in all his undertakings. "My father played the trombone, and he wanted me to [play] trumpet. I hated that. I went to listen to the trumpet and I didn't like it. I liked the sound of the instrument next door, but I didn't know what it was." It was the flute.

Several decades and 75 CD recordings later, Patrick Gallois is a world-renowned flautist and conductor of the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyvaskyla. But his professional path was not seamless: other potential careers, notable for their diversity, enticed him in the past. As a teenager in that small Catholic town, Patrick wanted to become a priest. He also loved mathematics, and considered making that his career. Then, he began to paint, and found that he was very successful. But he never forgot the sound of the instrument that he'd heard in the adjoining room. More confused than ever about which path he should follow, Patrick sought the advice of a priest, who told him he should direct his energies to becoming a musician. He took that advice. "I sold a lot of paintings and got enough money to buy a flute. I always say, I didn't choose the flute, the flute chose me."

At 16, he applied to the Paris Conservatoire, and there, a year later 1973, he met world-renowned flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal. He had already been inspired by hearing Rampal in concert. Now, he was to study under him. "That changed my life," he says." After receiving his Prix from the Conservatoire at age 19, he was made First Flute in the Philharmonic Orchestra of Lille. From then, he put thoughts of painting, mathematics and the priesthood aside, and focused solely on his musical future. In 1977, aged 21, he became first flute at the Orchestre National de France under the musical direction of Lorin Maazel. He stayed there until 1984.

The year before he left, his life took another dramatic turn. "I had four kids," he says, still audibly excited at the memory. "A girl on 2 January 1983, and triplets - two boys and one girl - on 18 December 1983. That completely changed my life" He left the orchestra and moved to the countryside to allow him to spend more time with his children and to focus on creating a solo career. In 1986, he founded his own orchestra, l'Academie de Paris, and he resumed music study, this time the double bass and percussion. "The flute is one voice in the thousand voices of music," he explains. "I wanted to hear the other voices."

He had already made his first solo recording, in 1981 in Japan. Although the LP was only available for sale to Japanese buyers, his recording of the Mozart Concertos sold 100,000 copies. "They named me "The Prince of the Flute," he says, a little embarrassedly, and modestly attributes his success to his image: "I was blond, French and I played the flute."

All attributes that still hold true, but the younger Gallois needed to be convinced that he could be popular regardless of his appearance, so he chose to work in a country where he blended in completely. "That's why I went to Finland. I wanted to know if it was me or the music they loved."

At the time, he got the answer he was hoping for, and these days Finland is his second home. He spends a lot of time traveling, mostly between Paris and Finland, where he lives on a lake island that is surrounded by snow for most of the year. "But every week, it's a different country. I was in Japan recently, and last week I was conducting Figaro in Finland."

For the last twenty years, he has also been teaching the flute. "I mix conducting and flute playing quite a lot," he says.

Seeking a wider audience, he entered into a 10-year recording relationship with a German music company (Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft - DG ), which ended when the company took a direction that was too marketing-oriented for his taste. "I was not happy with the musical direction I was forced to take," he says.

In the 10 years that followed, he gave free rein to his own musical ideas and dreams. "Those 10 years where very important for me to grow up musically," he says.

With a clear vision, he approached Naxos, and found a receptive ear. "I went to the company that was closest to the public," he says. He recorded Symphonies by Haydn with the Sinfonia Finlandia for Naxos in 2004, and he plans to make one or two recordings with his orchestra for the company each year. He says the partnership with Naxos is one where he feels he might reach his musical peak. "I'm very happy. The quality is the best quality I know, people have easy access to the music, and the price is not expensive."

His latest recording for Naxos is French Flute Pieces, a selection that he says is representative of a new generation of French composers. "My intention with this CD is to bring the French flute to the public. This CD brings works by the five most famous French composers from the second half of the 20th century together."

An ambitious undertaking for a man who considers his country of birth the world leader in flautists: "The French specialize in the flute, not just cooking. We cook well, but we play the flute well, too."

The works on French Flute Pieces are often considered difficult for audiences, but he says people should not be afraid to listen to them. "I want to show that you don't have to be musically educated to hear this music."

It's difficult for him to choose a favourite, but after some thought, he says the slow movement of the Poulenc Flute Sonata called Cantilena is his favourite piece on the CD. "Because it's a dream. It's like being on the stage. When you're on the stage, you're telling the public a story. You start with 'Once upon a time'. That's why I play music. I wanted to share with the public this experience of dreaming. You don't need to know, you just need to be there. Sometimes you like it, sometimes you don't. Sometimes it's just that you agreed to share a dream with the artist who's on the stage."

It's "the best CD I ever did," he says, but still for Gallois, there's an even more enticing CD waiting on the horizon. "I want to make a CD that's different. Listening to [recordings] is not usually something I like. It's like a dead fish on your desk. All the same. That's why I want to record, because I want to escape from that. I want to make a CD that's not [just] for the market. The perfect CD for me will be like a diamond - every time you look at it, it's different. The light is never the same. I don't want something perfect. I want to have something with many questions. I want to have a piece of art that you can listen to and it's different each time."

To reflect the many facets of Gallois' own life, perhaps.


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