Who is Alexis Ffrench? Meet the composer and pianist who performed at the Coronation

ByQuyen Anne

Jan 3, 2024

Meet the composer and pianist, Alexis Ffrench, who is among the artists performing at the coronation concert in the grounds of Windsor Castle on 7 May

Alexis Ffrench performed at the Coronation concert on 7 May, alongside the likes of Bryn Terfel, Andrea Bocelli, Take That, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Gareth Malone and his Coronation Choir.

But just who is the popular composer and performer?

Who is Alexis Ffrench?

Alexis Ffrench is a pianist, composer and broadcaster, who is known for straddling the divide between classical music and other genres. His works – all proudly tonal and none more than four minutes long – are as likely to channel the Beach Boys as they are Bach or Beethoven.

And his philosophy is that classical music needs to be more like hip hop if the genre is to survive. It’s an approach that has worked well for him: he has more than 100 million streams on Spotify, and is often asked to provide soundtracks for adverts and films.

Ffrench has played Latitude, headlined the Royal Albert Hall and worked with pop artist Paloma Faith. He is also the first ever artistic director of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), a role that has seen him shake up the performance grade repertoire by including many new composers.

How old is Alexis Ffrench?

Alexis Ffrench was born in 1970.

Where did Alexis Ffrench grow up?

His father was in the RAF so a lot of Ffrench’s early childhood was spent on military bases around the world. However, his home was in Bagshot, Surrey, where he was raised in a strict Catholic household.

How did he get into music?

Although neither of Ffrench’s parents were musicians, his father loved music and would often have the likes of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Ella Fitzgerald on in the house.

He also had high expectations of his children, as Ffrench told The Times: ‘My dad came over from the West Indies on a boat, didn’t eat for 14 days, and then started here from scratch,’ he replies. ‘People who’ve been through that are very ambitious for their children.

‘So in our house discipline was maximum. It was “practise, study hard, be better than the rest, then go out and do something special”.’ For Ffrench, that ‘something special’ was his musical precocity: from his earliest years, he would play along to music on the kitchen table.

  • How can I get my child into classical music?

At four, his family bought him a second hand piano. By seven, he was a church organist, playing for masses and weddings. He went on to study at the specialist Purcell School for young musicians, before winning scholarships at the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music (two of the best music colleges and conservatoires in the world)

Why did he break out of ‘traditional’ classical music?

When Ffrench was in his twenties, his best friend – fellow musician Christopher Duke, whom Ffrench had met at the Purcell School – took his own life. The shock of it led Ffrench to reflect on the link between mental health and the intensely-pressured life of musician.

It also led him to reassess his own music. ‘I started to think very deeply about what sort of music I wanted to bring to people, and what I wanted to leave behind me,’ he told The Times. ‘I began trying to compose pieces that synthesised all the things in my musical background.’

What are Alexis Ffrench’s most famous works?

His two albums, Evolution and Dreamland, have both reached No. 1 in the Classical Music Charts.

What is Alexis Ffrench performing at the Coronation concert?

Ffrench will join Freya Ridings to perform for the Environmental spectacular part of the Coronation concert.

When did he meet King Charles?

Ffrench met King Charles when he was 14, at the Purcell School of Music ,where the then-prince attended an art class that he was in. ‘What I remember of the man is that he was warm hearted kind and generous and it seemed that time stood still as he spoke,’ recalls Ffrench. ‘He spoke to me about my piece of art and was very generous about it.’

Has he performed at royal occasions before?

Yes. He performed a solo piano piece during the pandemic at a commonwealth concert at Westminster Abbey. He also performed a tribute to the Queen at a Together at Christmas event curated by the Princess of Wales.

At the event, he improvised on the Queen’s favourite hymn ‘In the Bleak Midwinter‘, while images from the Queen’s life were projected on to the piano. ‘Because I was improvising I didn’t know how long I was playing for,’ says Ffrench, ‘so I had to ask someone to stand out of shot and drop his hand when I hit one minute and when I hit two minutes: it was important to me to respond to the moment in that ephemeral way and to not have anything fixed.’

How does he feel about performing at the coronation concert?

Ffrench has said: ‘To have been invited to perform in the Coronation Concert held in celebration of His Majesty King Charles III is an honour of the utmost magnitude. Such moments are unequivocally iconic and exceedingly rare, and I am delighted to share the stage with the wonderfully talented Freya Ridings on this momentous occasion.’

How did this coronation commission come about? Did King Charles give him a call?

No, laughs Ffrench: ‘King Charles didn’t get on the blower, himself – he was busy. In the first instance there might have been some Whatsapps. Further along the line there was a more formal-looking email and then you note at some point that the ‘TBC’ has come off. But that’s like my whole life: it’s a sequence of things and then you look for the point when the ‘TBC’ is removed.

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