The flute is one of the great instruments used in cultures throughout the world. Western audiences know the instrument best in traditional classical music. However, primitive flutes have been discovered as old as 40,000 years old!
Although this is an old instrument, many incredible musicians are performing this instrument today. Some of these musicians are acclaimed soloists like James Galway, while others are faculty members at the best music schools worldwide. Many are acclaimed performers with major orchestras, and some have even branched out of classical music and made tremendous impacts in film, jazz, and contemporary music styles.
If you are familiar with the world of flute, you have likely heard the names of many of these people. They have performed and recorded with the world’s greatest ensembles and conductors.
So who are the greatest flutists living today? We discuss 15 remarkable flutists, their contributions to the instrument, and some of their most notable recordings and career achievements.
Bonita Boyd is an American flute soloist who has taught at Eastman School of Music for over 43 years! When she was just 21 years old, she became the youngest principal flutist of a major professional orchestra in the United States when she won the audition for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
Shortly after this, she debuted in Los Angeles and Europe. These performances led to comparisons of James Galway and Jean-Pierre Rampal.
Her extensive teaching career at the Eastman School of Music has produced students who have performed in the world’s major orchestras.
In an interview with the New York Flute Club in 2009, Bonita Boyd said the following about playing the instrument: “I like to get to know the music so well that I’m free to create as I go along. One has the most freedom when the score is part of your soul.”
For her contributions to the flute, she won The National Flute Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
Amy Porter is an extraordinary flute soloist and a flute professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She is renowned for her tone and interpretation of the classical flute repertoire. The American Record Guide has praised her musicianship, describing her as a “charismatic and highly skilled performer.”
Amy Porter graduated with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in performance from Juilliard, studying with Jeanne Baxtresser, who is also on this list. Afterward, she won the position of assistant principal flute with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
As a performer, Amy Porter has won numerous awards from the New York Flute Club, Artists International, and the National Flute Association. She has helped expand the flute repertoire, premiering works written for her by composers Ellen Taafe Zwilich and Michael Daugherty.
Her students have won appointments with major professional orchestras throughout the world.
Known globally for his unparalleled interpretation of classical flute music, Emmanuel Pahud is one of the world’s most recognizable flute players.
In 1992, at the age of 22, Emmanuel Pahud won a position with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. At the time, Pahud was the youngest member of the orchestra. Although he is an internationally famous soloist, he still performs with the Berlin Philharmonic as the co-principal flutist, sharing the position with Mathieu Dufour.
Pahud is one of the busiest professional musicians in the world. On average, he gives around 160 concerts a year, splitting his time between Berlin Philharmonic performances and solo & chamber concerts. As a soloist, he has now performed with nearly every major orchestra worldwide.
Although Pahud is most known for his Baroque and Classical interpretations, he has performed new flute works. He premiered a flute concerto by Elliott Carter and a separate flute concerto by Italian composer Luca Lombardi. He is, additionally, an avid interpreter of jazz flute music.
A performer noted for her brilliant interpretation and captivating performing, Jeanne Baxtresser was a child prodigy who made her debut at the age of just 14 with the Minnesota Orchestra.
Baxtresser is perhaps most widely known for performing with the New York Philharmonic for over 15 years. As a soloist, she has recorded albums with some of the biggest names in classical music, including conductors Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, and Kurt Masur.
Baxtresser has taught at several of the most prestigious conservatory programs, including the Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, and Carnegie Mellon University. Her students have won positions in major orchestras as well as university professorships worldwide.
In 2006, the National Flute Association awarded her their Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in flute performance and pedagogy.
A prominent American flutist and conductor, Ransom Wilson’s career began while studying at the Juilliard School under Julius Baker and Arthur Lora. Later, he studied for a year in Paris under Jean-Pierre Rampal, one of the most extraordinary flutists of all time.
Wilson is among the most prominent flutists of his generation, having been previously awarded an exclusive recording contract with EMI Records. He currently teaches at the Yale University School of Music.
Wilson splits his time equally between flute performance and conducting. He studied conducting with Leonard Bernstein and Otto-Werner Mueller. Additionally, Ransom Wilson is currently the Music Director of the Redlands Symphony in Orange County, California.
There may never be another flutist who has achieved international stardom like Sir James Galway. His career success is as unlikely as it is extraordinary.
Born in Belfast, Ireland, James Galway won the principal flute job of the Berlin Philharmonic at the age of 30 under the baton of Herbert von Karajan. Much to Karajan’s dismay, Galway relinquished the Berlin Phil position just six years after winning the job to pursue a solo career.
James Galway has expanded the flute repertoire significantly. He has commissioned flute concertos by William Bolcom, John Corigliano, and Joaquín Rodrigo, among several other composers.
Galway’s many career achievements include a knighthood from the British empire, the 2014 Gramophone Lifetime Achievement Award, and Grammy award nominations.
Nicknamed “The Man With the Golden Flute,” James Galway has sold over 30 million recordings of his playing.
Alexa Still is perhaps the most significant flutist to ever come out of New Zealand. Currently a professor at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Alexa Still previously was the Principal Flute of the New Zealand Symphony for over a decade.
An internationally renowned teacher, Alexa Still has presented masterclasses worldwide, including Australia, England, Germany, Turkey, Korea, and many more countries.
Her prolific career includes many recordings on the Koch International Classics label. She has recorded works by Barber, Copland, Bloch, and other classical music composers with the label.
Previously a faculty member of the Sydney Conservatory of Music in Australia, Alexa Still has served as the National Flute Association president.
Robert Dick has had perhaps the most unique career of all flutists on this list. As a performer, he is not known for a traditional approach to classical flute; instead, Dick is a revolutionary whose music spans the avant-garde, contemporary classical, jazz, and world music styles.
Robert Dick invented the “Glissando Headjoint,” which gives flutists the option to have a “whammy bar effect” with their flutes. Allan Kozinn of the New York Times once said Robert Dick’s performance with the headjoint had “considerable charm.”
Robert Dick primarily performs his compositions, many of which use extended techniques like multiphonics. According to Wikipedia, some of his biggest influences are Jimi Hendrix, Paul Hindemith, and Georg Phillip Telemann.
Dick has published several books on flute performance, including Tone Development through Extended Techniques, and Circular Breathing for the Flutist. Robert Dick is currently a faculty member in flute performance at New York University.
The current principal flute of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Langevin teaches at both the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music.
Before performing with the NY Phil, Langevin had an active career in Canada. He was a flutist with the Montreal Symphony and taught at the University of Montreal for nine years.
An active performer of new music, Langevin gave Pierre Boulez’s Le Marteau sans maître (English translation is The Hammer Without a Master) its Canadian premiere. He has also recorded Carl Nielsen’s Flute Concerto for The Nielson Project.
As a student, Langevin won the Prix D’Europe, a prestigious prize awarded to a single Canadian musician every year, which allowed him to further his musical studies at the Freyburg School of Music in Germany.
Jasmine Choi is one of the most famous living flutists whose recordings have been streamed on YouTube and Spotify several million times.
Choi’s resume is impeccable, having studied at both Curtis and Juilliard in the early 2000s. As a recent college graduate, she was named by Symphony Magazine as an “emerging artist” in 2006.
In 2015, Sinfini Magazine in the UK named her one of the ten best flute soloists of all time. Jasmine Choi has considerably expanded the flute repertoire, premiering works by composers Daniel Dorff, Clint Needham, Detlev Glanert, and several others.
As a soloist, Jasmine Choi has performed with the most significant symphonies worldwide, including the Vienna Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Cincinnati Symphony.
Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson
The current Principal Flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson, approaches the repertoire with extraordinary tone and interpretation. Before his tenure with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Höskuldsson performed with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for eight years.
Höskuldsson has performed under the baton of several extraordinary conductors, including Valery Gergiev, Daniel Barenboim, and Seiji Ozawa, among others.
Höskuldsson teaches flute at DePaul University’s School of Music in Chicago. As a teacher, he has given masterclasses at Juilliard, Mannes, the Royal Academy of Music, and several other music schools.
Jim Walker may just be the most recorded flutist of all time. Between 1988 and 2010, Jim Walker has performed on over 750(!) film soundtracks, the most of any flutist in history. Some motion picture soundtracks featuring Jim Walker’s flute playing include Aladdin, Pocahontas, Beauty & the Beast, and hundreds more.
A faculty member at both USC Thornton and the Colburn School, Jim Walker’s career as a flutist has been remarkable in its breadth. He has performed alongside major flutists James Galway and Jean Pierre-Rampal. He additionally was the Principal Flutist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic until 1984, when he left to pursue a studio and solo career.
Walker is, additionally, one of the most prolific jazz flutists of all time. His band Free Flight has performed around the world. Past members have included drummer Peter Erskine and jazz pianist Milcho Leviev.
Khaner is the acting principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, having previously been the Cleveland Orchestra and Pittsburgh Symphony’s principal flutist. As a soloist, Khaner has performed under the batons of Robert Spano, Gerard Schwarz, Charles Dutoit, and Christoph Eschenbach, among dozens more.
Holding faculty positions at the Juilliard School, Curtis Institute of Music, and Lynn Unversity Conservatory of Music, Khaner is among the world’s top flute teachers. His students have obtained seats in the world’s foremost orchestras.
Khaner has recorded extensively. He has released recordings on Naxos, Decca Records, Chesky Records, and Avie Records. He is also a published arranger; Theodore Presser has published several of his flute arrangements.
While we tend to focus on classical musicians, we felt Bobbi Humphrey, an acclaimed jazz flutist & singer, deserved a place on this list of 15 extraordinary flutists.
While a college student, Bobbi Humphrey was discovered by trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie in a talent show. At the advice of Dizzy Gillespie, Humphrey moved to New York City to pursue a music career.
In 1971, Bobbi Humphrey was the first female instrumentalist signed to Blue Note Records. This legendary jazz music label has released albums by jazz legends John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, and Herbie Hancock.
Humphrey has held a rarefied career in music, performing at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Montreaux Jazz Festival.
One of her best-selling recordings is Blacks and Blues, an album recorded for Blue Note alongside the Mizell Brothers.
Paula Robison has had an esteemed career as a flute soloist. Leonard Bernstein himself invited Paula Robison to perform as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic when she was just 20 years old.
Her performing career has been documented in major publications, including The New York Times, Musical America, and Ovation magazines.
Robison, who is now a flute professor at the New England Conservatory, is one of the founding members of the beloved Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which currently presents over a hundred concerts every year.
Robison graduated from Juilliard with a Bachelor’s degree in 1963. Paula Robison was the co-director of the Spoleto Festival in Italy for over 30 years.