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Gheorghe Zamfir – The “King of the Pan Flute”
again conquers the European stages
His success story provides big headlines and record statistics: Over 200 albums and CDs released, over 40 million recordings sold, 90 gold and platinum records, countless awards, numerous tours on all five continents.
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 “King 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.
In the meantime, the famous pan flutist can look back upon 50 years on the stage. For Gheorghe Zamfir, a half century of completely spectacular stations. Since the 1960s, extensive concert tours have lead him with various ensembles and casts around the globe. Whether in North or South America, in China, South Africa or Australia, everywhere he finds an enthusiastic public that learns to appreciate the special character of the pan flute, its unique tonal “language” that absorbs the sometimes elegiac, sometimes temperamental pastoral tones like a new musical discovery into itself. In the German-speaking world, the concertgoers like to particularly recall his successful programme “Pan Flute and the Organ”, with which Zamfir was to be heard in the 1970s and 1980s in all the great churches and cathedrals of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
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” (Christian Seidl in the Süddeutschen Zeitung [Southern German Newspaper]). 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.
Everything had begun with a rejection: In 1941, in Gaesti near the Romanian capital city of Bucharest, the 14-year old Gheorghe received no free spot in the accordion class of the Music Lyceum in Bucharest. Almost forced to move over to the pan flute class, the talented pupil developed not only a deep love, but rather also an outstanding talent for the classical instrument that – according to the Greek saga – the god of shepherds Pan once carved out of a reed in order to impress the beautiful nymphs. Zamfir quickly impressed not only his instructors at the conservatory, but the 18-year-old already won his first prize at a national contest.
Also trained in the piano, in contrapoint and ensemble conducting, the artist perfects his tools and the instrument. In order to expand the repertoire for the pan flute, Zamfir expands the original 20-pan-piped wind instrument to 22, 25, even 30 bamboo panpipes. And thus opens dimensions for the pan flute that the rather simple instrument never previously possessed. Zamfir obtains from it special powers of expression between weighty depths and jubilant, spring-like exhilaration. An ever-increasing public has profited from his musical pioneer spirit, his innovative urgency and his pure passion for the range of sounds of the pan flute since the last 1960s. This public has enthusiastically received Zamfir and his ensembles, first in Germany, later in Switzerland, France and China.
Zamfir conquers the world
Already in 1966, Gheorghe Zamfir had released his first record, upon which the famous pieces such as “Doina de Jale” and “Doina ca de la Visina” are to be heard. 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 colour 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.
Back to the roots
In the recent past, Zamfir was less frequently upon European stages. Reason: Ongoing tours and en-suite concerts in the USA, Canada, Australia and Asia that become victory parades with virtually gigantic successes with the public. Nevertheless, the soloist, conductor and composer – he has given up his previous residence in Canada, lives in the meantime in Paris and Bucharest and has a teaching position for the pan flute in the Romanian capital city – again wishes to concentrate on giving more performances in Europe.
For future concerts, particularly in Europe, the “King of the Pan Flute” promises a colourful mastery of the music. He will present himself and his incomparable tonal world symphonically and with chamber orchestras, but will also give “more intimate” concerts in duet with organ or piano, with a female vocalist, small folklore and percussion groups. And also the “pop musician Zamfir” is supposed to again be heard upon the stage.
The icon of the pan flute is alive – and the legend continues…