The Virtuoso

Gheorghe Zamfir (born April 6, 1941, Găeşti), Romanian musician widely known as The King of the Pan Flute.

Although initially interested in becoming an accordionist, at the age of 14 he began his pan flute studies. He continued his education at the Bucharest Academy of Music where he was a student of Fănică Luca at the Conservatory of Bucharest, Romania in (1968). He currently resides and teaches pan flute in Bucharest. Zamfir came to the public eye when he was discovered by Swiss ethno-musicologist Marcel Cellier who extensively researched Romanian folk music in the 1960s. Largely through television commercials, he introduced the folk instrument to a modern audience and revived it from obscurity; in the United States his commercials were widely seen on CNN in the 1980s.

Already in 1966, Gheorghe Zamfir had released his first record. The 1970s and 1980s see an artist who tirelessly changes sound studios, great concert halls and continents. In 1974, he composes the first Mass for Peace for the pan flute, choir, organ and orchestra. In 1976, his single Été d’Amour becomes one of the hits of the year. Zamfir makes stylistic and exemplary recordings with organ accompaniment, small ensembles and large orchestras that produce self-composition, classical and religious works, ethnic and popular music with the yearning tone color of the pan flute. He gives legendary concerts in New York’s Carnegie Hall, in Royal Albert Hall in London, in Paris’s Olympia, in Shanghai, Tokyo and Cape Town. He is to be found upon the “great parquet”, is received by the Japanese empress and heads of state throughout the world, chitchats on the talk shows of David Letterman and Johnny Carson and gives the pope a sampling of his art form at the Vatican.

What reads like the biography of a rock star is the story of the most famous pan flutist in the world, Gheorghe Zamfir. An artist, whose name is synonymous with the instrument. The press and the public have anointed him as the true virtuoso, as the maestro and the Master of the Pan Flute. Euphorically celebrated as the Reincarnation of the God Pan, he has been considered for decades around the world as an icon and already today as a living legend. With Zamfir, music lovers and music critics are in agreement: He is one of the most important representatives of a wind instrument that for a long time played only a minor role in music until Zamfir brought it to the great stages of the world and displayed his multi-faceted magic there.

This wind instrument: the pan flute, panpipes, flûte de Pan, Pan's pipes, syrinx, pandean pipes, or Romanian "nai", was said to have been invented by Pan, the god of nature in Greek mythology. Zamfir is known for playing an expanded version of the traditional Romanian-style pan flute (nai) of 20 pipes to 22, 25, 28 and 30 pipes to increase its range, and obtaining as many as nine tones from each pipe by changing the embouchure.

And praised again and again: The artistic breadth of the virtuoso. His repertoire is like a link between the different musical worlds. Zamfir’s love for the music of the gypsies, to the folklore of his fatherland, finds expression in his repertoire as does his appreciation for the classical works of Puccini, Verdi, Mozart or Schubert, which he often “interprets in a strange and bizarre dialect and thus obtains from them a subtlety that the tired originals had long since lost”. Precisely this multi-dimensionality and creativity are what have brought the artist worldwide plaudits and awards. Zamfir received, among others, the distinctions of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres de France and Most Popular Composer and Artist of the 20th Century.

Even his excursions into popular music, the expression of Zamfir’s pronounced love of experimentation, have been positively received by critics and fans. He plays music with the bandleader James Last, records the well-known title The Lonely Shepherd with him. More and more active as a composer – Zamfir: “Being creative is the most important thing to me” – , he regularly focuses upon film music. He writes the soundtracks to the films Mourir à Madrid and Picknick at Hanging Rock and, for the blockbusters Once Upon a Time in America, Kill Bill and Karate Kid, he has supplied modern film music, the melodies of which still ring today in all ears. His success story provides big headlines and record statistics: Over 200 albums and CDs released, over 40 million recordings sold, over 120 gold and platinum records, countless awards, numerous tours on all five continents. In 2008, the Malmö Science Institute (Sweden) published the results of a two-decades research about the world's greatest cultural personalities: Gheorghe Zamfir was ranked first, with over 1,500,000 votes!