Gheorghe Zamfir is without a doubt the world's best-known pan flute player. He has made numerous recordings and became widely popular in the latter decades of the twentieth century.
Zamfir studied music first at the Bucharest Academy of Music, then at the Bucharest Conservatory. While he must be credited to a large extent with being self-taught on the pan flute, he did take lessons on his chosen instrument from Fanica Luca, his most influential teacher. By the late 1960s, he had become a virtuoso pan flute player, with a few recordings to his credit. Still, he remained little-known in his native Romania and was a virtual unknown outside its borders. His lack of recognition at that time owes much to the limited appeal of the pan flute even in his homeland, where there was a reluctance to manufacture the ancient instrument. In 1969, Zamfir met with Swiss musicologist Marcel Cellier, who would be largely responsible for the pan flutist's discovery. Cellier was an organist and engaged Zamfir to join him in a series of concerts in Switzerland, Europe, and elsewhere that eventually resulted in several recordings featuring the pair playing their chosen instruments. One of their more successful collaborations was the album Flute de Pan et Orgue, which was taped from a live concert in Australia. In 1984, the two were given a Grand Prix Award by the Academie du Disque Français for that recording. In 1971, Zamfir met Joeri Murk, a fledgling manufacturer of pan flutes whom he inspired in the years following to produce more instruments. (Murk would also go on to found a pan flute school in 1976 in Zurich.) In 1974, the president of Philips had come to Cellier's Swiss residence, where he met Zamfir and immediately signed him to a contract. This yielded worldwide issue of a number of highly successful recordings. Shortly after signing the contract with Philips, Zamfir moved to Switzerland with his wife, Marie-Noele. Zamfir gave his Carnegie Hall debut in 1981, after which his career continued with increasing success both on the concert stage and in the recording studio. In 1993, he began teaching at the Dajoeri Pan Flute School in Zurich and five years later, established his own pan flute school, also located in the Swiss capital. The following year, he took Swiss citizenship.
Zamfir's unique style of playing is characterized by the bending of pitches and imaginative improvisation. He toured Europe with his own ensemble, the Florian Econonu Orchestra, with which he released several recordings. He has been featured on the soundtracks of numerous films, including Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Karate Kid. Zamfir continues to concertize and record a wide variety of music. Sales of Zamfir's LPs and CDs have generally been strong, owing to their purchase by many buyers who previously had little or no exposure to the pan flute, but who found its exotic, soothing sonorities of great appeal. His albums for Philips have included Music by Candlelight (1983), Romance (1984), A Return to Romance (1988), and Magic of the Panpipes (2001).