Who is Anna Lapwood? Meet the organist, choral conductor and social media sensation
All you need to know about the organist and conductor Anna Lapwood, who's using social media to bring classical music to millions
Anna Lapwood, 27, has been described by the New York Times as 'the world's most visible organist.'
Raised in a small Oxfordshire village, Lapwood studied Music at Magdalen College, Oxford, where she was the first woman in the college's 560-year history to be awarded an organ scholarship.
She now runs choirs and teaches at Cambridge University's Pembroke College by day, and, by night, her role as Associate Artist of the Royal Albert Hall sees her granted special access to the grand venue's historic organ.
This has led to some entirely spontaneous collaborations, not least with electronic musician Bonobo: one late-night practice session was interrupted by a request shouted up from the stage, which turned out to come from a couple of members of Bonobo’s band. Eighteen hours later, she was helping them close their show to an unsuspecting audience of 5,000.
On another occasion, a practice session coincided with Benedict Cumberbatch appearing at the Hall. Lapwood approached the actor and asked if he wanted to try out the organ. He and his wife Sophie Hunter, theatre and opera director, accepted.
'I played for them for about ten minutes, and then they both had a go,' says Lapwood. 'Benedict played Bach’s Prelude In C Major (BWV 846). We had a chat and after they left, I started practising 'Cornfield Chase' [from the movie Interstellar, scored by Hans Zimmer].
'Benedict’s bodyguards ran back on stage as they love the piece and Benedict followed and asked if I could do it again so he could film it. When I finished, I realised he was crying, and he said: "You’ve got to join Letters Live tomorrow". Then I started crying!'
As Benedict read former US President Richard Nixon’s letter, written to be shared if the moon landings had failed and lives had been lost, Lapwood played 'Cornfield Chase' to close the show.
Only 8% of organists responsible for recitals in the UK in 2022 are women, but Lapwood, who has 450,000+ TikTok followers and whose social media hashtag is #playlikeagirl, is keen to reinvent the organ's image.
'There’s all sorts of old ideas about who goes to an organ concert, and it was seen as having gone out of fashion. That has definitely changed,” insists Anna: “This instrument is anything from boring – just ask Benedict Cumberbatch!'
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Photo: Charlotte Ellis
Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.