Obituary: William Bennett

The London Symphony Orchestra is sad to hear of the death of William Bennett, former Principal Flute, on Wednesday 11 May at the age of 86.

Wibb, as he was affectionately known, was LSO Principal Flute from 1967–72, playing in the section at the same time as James Galway. He performed as principal flute with many of the great orchestras  – RPO, Academy of St Martin's in the Fields and the English Chamber Orchestra – and with numerous chamber music partners such as harpist Osian Ellis, Jimi Hendrix, Yehudi Menuhin and Wynton Marsalis, but was most renowned for raising the profile of the flute as an instrument capable of great expressiveness, lyricism and tonal colours.

He studied with Geoffrey Gilbert at the Guildhall School of Music and in Paris with Jean-Pierre Rampal, and later with the great Marcel Moyse. As a recording artist he recorded over 100 discs as soloist, including all the standard flute repertoire and pioneering recordings of neglected works. Composers such as Richard Rodney Bennett and William Matthias dedicated works to him, and Wibb himself published many transcriptions for the flute. He was also interested in refining and improving the instrument, working to improve the scale of the flute in collaboration with other British flautists and makers, which has helped to improve the intonation of the modern flute.

As a professor of flute at Freiburg Hochschule of Music in Germany and the Royal Academy of Music in London, and through his series of masterclasses around the world and the International Flure Summer School which he founded, he has inspired a generation of flautists. He had a profound musical influence on so many people, and his former students describe him as an exceptional musician and teacher. 

He was made an Order of the British Empire in 1995 for his distinguished service to music.

We send our condolences to Wibb's family and friends, and the many flautists with whom he worked, taught and influenced throughout his career.

A tribute from Sir James Galway:

'It is with great sadness that I mourn the passing of my friend, William Bennett. Affectionally known to everybody as Wibb. When I first moved to London at the age of 16, I met Wibb, and he had the biggest influence on my life. My wife and I send our heartfelt condolences to his wife Michie, family, friends and colleagues at the London Symphony Orchestra, where Wibb was Principal Flute from 1967 until 1972.'