11 of the greatest flautists in the world

31 May 2024, 17:31

11 of the greatest flautists in the world: Claire Chase, Emmanuel Pahud, Katherine Bryan
11 of the greatest flautists in the world: Claire Chase, Emmanuel Pahud, Katherine Bryan. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Rosie Pentreath

Who are some of the greatest flute players performing today? We celebrate some of the finest and most innovative players working around the world.

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The flute sits at the head of the traditional symphony orchestra’s woodwind section, leading the players and lending wonderful melodies and sparkling solo moments to the orchestral texture.

Its sound is also in demand in monumental concertos and sonatas by the likes of Mozart, Vivaldi, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Nielsen and more, heard performed by soloists on recordings and on stages all over the world.

Here are some of the greatest flautists working today.

Read more: 19 best pieces of flute music ever written

  1. James Galway

    Nicknamed “the Man with the Golden Flute”, Irish flautist Sir James Galway rocketed to household-name status in 1978 when his solo recording of John Denver’s Annie’s Song peaked at No.3 in the UK Singles Chart. Imagine that today – a flute cover sitting comfortably alongside the likes of Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish.

    Galway, who learned to play the flute on a traditional Irish instrument before picking up a modern orchestral flute, earned his chops in impressive orchestral gigs, starting at Sadler’s Wells Opera, and playing in the London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, before becoming Principal Flute of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan, a position he held from 1969 to 1975 before he jumped onto a successful solo career.

    The great flautist received an OBE in 1977, and was knighted in 2001, becoming the first wind player ever to receive the honour.

    Read more: ‘Sir James Galway championed the flute in the 1970s – Lizzo is doing the same for today’s generation!’

    Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway talk performing with Lizzo at the Met Gala 2023!

  2. Emmanuel Pahud

    Emmanuel Pahud is principal flautist of the Berlin Philharmonic. Born in Geneva, Switzerland, Pahud studied at the Paris Conservatoire and went on to attract notice winning several major competitions.

    He was just 22 when he joined the Berlin Phil, making him the youngest member of the orchestra, and the position was soon a springboard for a flourishing career defined by appearances as soloist with the greatest orchestras in the world, as well as extensive recording releases.

    Pahud couples his classical credentials with a career in jazz, collaborating with jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson and others.

    Bizet: Intermezzo from "Carmen" / Barenboim · Berliner Philharmoniker

  3. Gareth Davies

    British flautist Gareth Davies is known for his Principal Flute roles at the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and then London Symphony Orchestra, a position he has held since 2000.

    Alongside his orchestral career, and making acclaimed concerto recordings and performances around the world, Davies is a writer and broadcaster. In 2013 he published The Show Must Go On, a fascinating account of historic and present-day life on tour with the London Symphony Orchestra that was named Book of the Year by the Financial Times.

    Read more: The 10 most relaxing pieces of flute music ever written

    Vaughan Williams - Suite de Ballet

  4. Claire Chase

    The New York Times called Californian flautist Claire Chase “the most important flautist of our time.” She made her concerto debut with the San Diego Symphony in 1992, at just 14 and is a graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio.

    A leading advocate for new and experimental music, Chase founded the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in 2001, and her first solo album, Aliento, which was named one of Time Out Chicago’s Top 10 Classical Albums, features contemporary works born out of collaboration.

    Chase has given the world premieres of hundreds of new works, prioritising interdisciplinary collaboration in her career. She is a MacArthur Fellow, a Professor of the Practice at Harvard University, and was the Debs Creative Chair at Carnegie Hall in the 2022-23 season.

    Read more: Why are flutes held to the side?

    Backstage with Claire Chase

    When you can play FIVE different kinds of flute... Bravo, Claire Chase! 👏

    Posted by Classic FM on Sunday, June 16, 2019
  5. Wissam Boustany

    Wissam Boustany is a Lebanese-British flautist, and founder, in 1995, of the Towards Humanity, an ongoing international initiative that brings musicians and charities together to help communities who suffer from the tragedies of war.

    Boustany was Principal Flute of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under the conductor Claudio Abbado at just 23 years old. After a career with orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra and London Mozart Players, he forged an international career as a soloist and inspirational teacher.

    He’s also a conductor and composer, and he gathers his outlook on living, performance and teaching under the umbrella of ‘A Method Called Love’, seeking to inspire and bring peace to people all over the world through music.

    Mozart Flute Concerto in G K.313 | Wissam Boustany - Flute

  6. Katherine Bryan

    A graduate of the Juilliard School of Music in New York, Katherine Bryan made her concerto debut at the Lincoln Center in 2001. Two years later, the British flautist was appointed as Principal Flute at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

    She was a woodwind finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 1998, 2000, and 2002, and has performed as a soloist and guest principal for many of the world’s finest orchestras.

    In her innovative 2015 recording, Silver Bow, Bryan takes well-known violin works, including Paganini’s Caprice No.24 in A minor and Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending, and reimagines them as virtuosic flute concertos with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

    Katherine Bryan plays Massenet's Meditation from Thais

  7. Denis Bouriakov

    Denis Bouriakov is an international soloist and Principal Flute under Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

    Born in Crimea in 1981, Bouriakov studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London with the late William Bennett OBE. He’s passionate about transcribing some of classical music’s best repertoire, including concertos for other instruments, into versions for flute players.

    M. Arnold: Concerto No. 1 for Flute and Strings, Op. 45

  8. Sharon Bezaly

    Israeli flautist Sharon Bezaly made her concerto debut with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic at the age pf 13. Numerous leading composers, including Sally Beamish, Sofia Gubaidulina and Brett Dean have written works for her, and she’s recorded over 20 albums.

    Working directly with composers, and commissioning new repertoire for the flute is important to her. “One of the things that frustrated me was that there’s not enough repertoire for the flute, like there is for the violin, for instance,” Bezaly once told Classical Source.

    In 2006, The Times described Bezaly as “God’s gift to the flute”.

    Sharon Bezaly playing Khachaturian's Violin Concerto (version for flute)

  9. Jeanne Baxtresser

    Born in Pennsylvania, in 1947, Jeanne Baxtresser gained a place at the Juilliard School of Music in New York in 1965. A trailblazer by the circumstances of when she was born, she was the first woman to be appointed Principal Flute of the New York Philharmonic.

    Before that, she had been Principal Flute at the Montreal and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, and she describes orchestral playing as “simply the greatest musical performance education in the world”.

    She is a familiar face on Live from the Lincoln Center broadcasts.

    Jeanne Baxtresser, C.P.E Bach - Concerto for Flute in D Minor: Allegro di Molto

  10. Robert Dick

    Robert Dick is a boundary-pushing flautist known for adapting the instrument, and writing for extended techniques, such as quarter tone fingerings.

    He is the inventor of the Glissando Headjoint®, which can be likened to a “whammy bar” on an electric guitar.

    “A flautist whose technical resources and imagination seem limitless,” according to The New York Times, Dick has written and performed numerous original works that take the flute into new realms of texture, timbre, sonority and pitch.

    One of his greatest influences is guitarist Jimi Hendrix. “Hendrix’s intensity and his unbelievable creativity inspired me totally,” the flute player says. “The sense that he could spontaneously make any sound he wanted, whether it had ever been played before or not, shook my world. I wanted to create a soundworld for the flute as extensive and as free as Hendrix’s guitar soundworld, and I wanted to do it acoustically, not with electronics.”

    Robert Dick - Flute Photosynthesis

  11. Emily Beynon

    Currently Principal Flute of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, Emily Beynon is a Welsh flautist who studied in London with William Bennett OBE and in Paris with Alain Marion.

    Beynon has numerous recordings to her name, has worked with leading composers, including Errollyn Wallen, Roxanna Panufnik and Jonathan Dove, to bring new music into the world, and in 2009 co-founded the Netherlands Flute Academy.

    Principal flute Emily Beynon | Concertgebouworkest