The last time James Galway was in Washington, he found himself talking to an amateur flute player from Texas in the Green Room of the Kennedy Center.

Somewhat to Galway's surprise -- after all, he is a virtuoso soloist known as The Man With the Golden Flute -- he took a liking to the man, amateur or not.

"His name was Joe Tallal," Galway said yesterday, having just stepped off the Concorde for a three-day engagement here that begins tonight. "I wound up staying at Joe's house in Dallas during my entire concert series there.We flew down together, and they picked us up at the airport in a Rolls Royce.

"I said -- wait a minute. Something's wrong here. I'm supposed to be the top cat, and you're supposed to be the amateur. How come you've got the Rolls Royce, and not me?"

For James Galway, a juggernaut of personal charm and musical virtuosity, there is no irony intended in the question.

It is clear that he intends to play Mozart and drive a Rolls too, and is accelerating ever faster toward that goal.

Not just Mozart, either -- or the Rodrigo and Mendelssohn also on his bill with the National Symphony Orchestra this week -- but John Denver, Chuck Mangione, Nana Mouskouri, the Bee Gees and anything else that will sell music to audiences.

Galway is a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, who has found himself an instant hit on TV talks shows in England, Europe and New York. He can pass through a 5-foot, 3-inch doorway without ducking, but his enthusiasm is as big as a house. He also has impeccable musical credentials, having served six years as principal flutist under the redoubtable Herbert von Karajan's redoubtable Berlin Philharmonic. When it comes to the aristocracy of music, however, he is a bull in the china shop.

"It's time that classical music got into the act," Galway said yesterday, puffing his pipe and thinking about his busy agent, who presumably was at that moment looking into a new product endorsement or tour to put together.

"Haydn was the Mick Jagger of his day. He used to make more than 300 pounds for a performance. And the aristocrats paid through the nose to get in -- three guineas each, I think. I don't know why classical musicians shouldn't make money the same way today."

It's a safe bet that many talented, classically trained soloists have entertained the same thoughts, but it is Galway who is the sapper out to eliminate the fences of tradition. Gifted musicians are supposed to be poor, right?

Well, Galway's 18-karat golden flute alone is currently worth about $40,000, he says, "since I had the maker put a diamond on the end. He thought I was kidding. I said, no it should have a diamond."

And his records are selling. "You lose count," Galway said, not exactly losing count: "12 gold records, a bunch of platinums, a whole stack of silver."

He is, he concedes happily, the best-selling flute player in the world. But the pixie face behind the beard and the pipe goes straight when the name Jean-Pierre Rampal comes up. Rampal, 55, a French soloist, was three years ago sole proprietor of the Man With the Golden Flute title.

"I feel no competition whatever with Rampal," he said, "and in fact we are very good friends. I had supper with him in Paris just three weeks ago. He's a marvelously funny man, he's a riot.

"This thing between me and Rampal has been built up entirely by the American press. The American record business is run on a very competitive basis, and it's been very confused lately. You don't see Galway versus Rampal anywhere in Europe."

What sets Galway apart from the world of classical recordings is that he is not only a "cross-over" artist -- one whose music reaches both popular and traditional camps -- but a proselyter for popularity on all fronts.

When he recorded John Denver's "Annie's Song," it sold 500,000 records, but few of them to his philharmonic peers. "In a few years, those kids will be listening to Mozart," he explained in self-defense.

"I don't worry about the aristocrats, I'm not playing for them," Galway said. "I just made a new recording in England, for example, with Cleo Laine, the jazz singer. We did all sorts of things. 'Play it Again, Sam,' some Chuck Mangione songs, and a lot of other stuff. Cleo wasn't even there. She did the tapes. Then I laid on the flute part. Then they put an orchestra in later."

Did it seem like music-making, done that way?

"Yes," Galway said. "Also a little like talking to someone you like on the telephone."

The Galway urge to have fun with his talent is all the more engaging because he has not lost the ability to be serious.

Yesterday afternoon, he and Max Rudolf, the venerable conductor charged with this week's performances (venerable means Max Rudolph looks exactly as a conductor should: bald pate around which breaks a surf of gray-white hair, long fingers to hold the baton, air of complete understanding, etc.), worked hard to get the Roderigo right.

Joachin Roderigo is a Spanish composer who was commissioned by Galway to write a flute concerto. The NSO, Rudolf and Galway worked over it section by section, with the soloist and the conductor conspiring openly to evoke a memorable performance.

"Can I make some general remarks?" Galway said at one point to the rehearsing players. "You must play softly, so I can play softly. I want to hear an out-of-this-world sound. Unearthly. Ethereal. Is EVERYBODY LISTENING?"

Everybody was, including Maestro Rudolf.

Galway doesn't see why such enthusiasm, such love of music and of getting it right, should be confined to the concert hall.

And as the BBC found, enthusiasm, love of music and the desire to get it right also makes grand television. He was quickly given his own show in England, and has made the rounds of most American talk shows, too. He particularly enjoyed a half-hour with Dick Cavett, for whom -- as he often does -- he played an ear-boggling selection of tunes on the tin whistle, an inexpensive traditional folk instrument.

Which Galway and his agent, by the way, now market.

He says, nevertheless, that he's not rich yet. Although his records are said to have sold more than $500,000 worth in three years, "I'm still building myself up." His trip to Australia (hence the Bee Gees tunes on the golden flute) was a financial eye-opener. "The plane ticket alone was 2,300 pounds sterling," he said, his eyes opening wider.

An accident three years ago changed many of his plans, and as a result, his life. Galway, visiting a friend near his home in Lucerne, Switzerland, was run down by a motorcycle.

"It was a 750 Yamaha," he said. "That's a big bike." Both legs and one arm were broken, and Galway spent four months in bed. During his recuperation, he dulled the pain, he said, with Scotch whiskey.

"Von Karajan called me when I was in bed. He said, 'Jimmy' -- I was the only one he ever called by his Christian name -- 'when you come out, you'll see a tree for what it is again. You'll be changed.'

"And I was. I gave up drinking entirely. I decided to spend more time with my family. I started thinking about the conservatory I want to found one of these days.

"You know what I found about drinking too much?" Galway asked, the smile spreading under his beard. "It dulls the fantasy. And for a musician, the fantasy is everything."