The flute is a reedless woodwind instrument that produces sound through airflow across an opening. It’s an extremely satisfying instrument to play and beautiful to listen to.
The flute is one of the oldest instruments in history and goes all the way back to the Stone Age. Despite the fact it’s quite a small instrument, the flute is difficult to learn and takes a lot of practice to be able to play it expertly.
There are many flute players across the world who have earned fame through their mastery of the flute, but some have really gained prowess in their experience of playing in amazing orchestras in front of thousands of spectators and teaching the flute to others in some of the best music schools around the globe.
We’ve put together 10 of the most famous flutists of our time below. Listening to some of these musical prodigies playing may inspire you to pick up a flute yourself, or to advance your skills if you already play.
1. Sir James Galway (born in 1939)
After performing a total of ninety-eight music recordings, countless movie soundtracks, and pop songs, Sir James Galway is recognized as one of the most famous flute players in modern times.
He has played with many of London’s biggest and most well-known orchestras, and as a flutist with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
He demonstrates an exceptional talent for the flute, with excellent technique, sound clarity, and intonation when he plays the instrument.
He has inspired many novice flute players to become advanced. He is depicted by the public as “The Man With The Golden Flute” which further excelled his fame.
Sir James Galway has played the flute for royal families and presidents, gained a plethora of awards, and was knighted in 2001. He set up the Galway Flute Academy to inspire up and coming flute players, and focuses mainly on educating the next generation of musicians these days,
2. Jean-Pierre Rampal (1922-2000)
Jean-Pierre Rampal was a famous, highly talented flute player, who performed with the Orchestra of the Paris Opera, planned the Paris Baroque Ensemble, and also founded the famous French Wind Quartet. He displayed a crystal clear tone while playing and focused greatly on the purity of his sound.
He developed his own unique, expressive sound which was easily recognized by the musical community. Jean-Pierre Rampal actually began his career as a doctor, but when World War II started, he fled to Paris where he became part of the conservatoire.
3. Jeanne Baxtresser (born in 1947)
Jeanne Baxtresser became an expert in the flute at an early age and joined Minnesota Orchestra at just age fourteen.
She later played the flute in three of the biggest American and Canadian orchestras called New York Philharmonic, Montreal Symphony, and Toronto Symphony. She is a flawless flutist and has trained many novice flute players up to an expert level in her time.
Many of her students went on to join major orchestras across the world. Jeanne Baxtresser is very famous for her teachings, after working as a Professor of Music at Carnegie Mellon University.
4. Matt Molloy (born in 1947)
Matt Molloy is an excellent flute player from Ireland who mastered the flute at an early age. He became famous after winning the = All-Ireland Flute Championship at the age of nineteen.
He has an individual style and is recognized for his energetic piping techniques which are second to none. His uniqueness when playing the flute has inspired thousands of new Irish musicians.
Matt Molloy played for multiple bands and orchestras throughout his flute career, such as The Bothy Band and the Irish Chamber Orchestra.
He now owns an Irish pub where regular live music sessions are played.
5. Bobbi Humphrey (born in 1950)
Bobbi Humphrey is an exceptional flutist who plays with a smooth jazz-fusion pop style. She played flute in a talent contest while at high school and was noticed and advised to pursue a musical career.
Her fame began after she played at the Apollo Theater in New York City. She continued to play throughout the city and signed a deal with the record label Blue Note in 1971. She was named Best Female Instrumentalist by Billboard in 1971 and performed on Stevie Wonder’s platinum album in 1977.
Bobbi Humphrey now owns her own label and is still hugely popular with many audiences to this day.
6. Emmanuel Pahud (born in 1970)
Emmanuel Pahud is a Swiss-French flute player and is one of today’s most popular flutists. He began his music studies at an early age and joined Berliner Philharmoniker as a flutist at the age of 22.
He still plays in that orchestra to this day. He is also a solo flute player and chamber musician. He performs at many music festivals across the world and performs as a soloist with the world’s greatest orchestras such as London Philharmonic and Washington National Symphony.
Emmanuel Pahud has won many awards for large international competitions such as Kobe and Concours de Genève. He won “Instrumentalist of the Year” at the Victoires de la Musique award ceremony in Paris in 1997, and signed with EMI classics in 1996, which led to him making many recordings that received critical acclaim and many awards up to this day.
7. Robert Dick (born in 1950)
Robert Dick is a well-known contemporary master of the flute, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Flute Association in 2014. He began composing music in the 1970s, and his style focuses on jazz, world music, and electronic music.
He displays exceptional clarity of structure and intense sound. He has recorded a huge variety of music and has worked with some of the world’s best composers to create flute masterpieces. Robert Dick currently teaches flute, improvisation, and chamber music at NYU.
8. Greg Pattilo (born in 1977)
Greg Pattillo has made an impressive career out of both flute-playing and beatboxing. He was born in Seattle, Washington, but now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
He has managed to intertwine his talents at beatboxing and playing the flute to create a captivating amalgamation of both. He shares videos on YouTube of the “beatbox flute”, and has racked up over 70 million views across the world.
Greg Pattilo studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music and performed in the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra. He was a founder of the Collaborative Arts Insurgency and the 16th and Mission Thursday Night musicians gathering.
He is now a member of a chamber music ensemble based in New York called “PROJECT Trio” and also performs as a soloist.
9. Sharon Bezaly (born 1972)
Sharon Bezaly is originally from Israel and now lives in Sweden. Since 1997, she has played the flute internationally as a soloist. She began performing initially with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic.
Sharon Bezaly has expertly performed with some of the best symphonies and chamber orchestras across the world and has released twenty-four award-winning CDs with the record company BIS.
10. Katherine Bryan
Katherine Bryan began playing the flute at a young age and joined the Academy of St.Martin-in-the-Fields in London at the age of 15.
Her first performances were with the Juilliard Orchestra. She then went on to play as a soloist with some of the world’s most famous orchestras, such as the BBC Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic.
At age 21, Katherine Bryan became the Principal Flute with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and still performs with them to this day.
She also continues to appear as a solo flutist with world-leading orchestras. She has appeared at large festivals such as Cheltenham International Festivals, has delivered radio broadcasts on stations such as Classic FM and BBC Radio 3, and launched her own International Flute Course in 2017.