Meet the “classical soul” artist drawing influences from R&B and hip hop.

For many, classical music has long seemed like an inaccessible thing, an old-fashioned ivory tower institution – aka not something that would instantly spring to mind when making your daily playlists.

But one person swiftly changing these preconceptions is Alexis Ffrench, a UK-based pianist and composer, bringing soul influences and flavour to classical music. And it’s about time too.

From stints at Latitude Festival to this year’s Classic BRIT Awards at the Royal Albert Hall – there’s no guarantees when it comes to Ffrench, except that people are hyped on his stuff. One million active Spotify listeners and over 75 million streams of his independently released music? Casual.

We chat to the musician below…

I read that you started out by imagining piano keys and “playing” the dining room table – how did you progress into making actual music?
From playing the kitchen table and pretending to the music of greats like Stevie Wonder, I progressed to an actual piano shortly before my 5th birthday. I think my parents tired of hearing the relentless finger tapping!

How would you describe your music? 

Classical soul – music to escape to.

Who did you listen to growing up?
Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole, Bob Marley and a lot of Chopin.

How do you think this music has influenced your music? 

The soulful expression, lyricism and honesty expressed in the music I listened to at that time is what I responded to the most. Unbridled honesty, having something to say and passion is what’s important, whatever the genre.

We’re interested by your mission to ‘cross-pollinate’ genres – do you think classical music and mainstream pop can merge?
I want to democratise classical music and create a ‘borderless’ landscape in which there are no barriers. I definitely think this can be achieved and I would like to lead that charge.

You’re something of a Spotify phenomenon – did you ever think classical music and streaming could become synonymous?
Streaming has changed the music industry radically and has ushered in a real shift for consumers, curators, musicians and record companies. The ‘Relaxing Classical’ playlist has become ubiquitous and people are turning to these classical playlists, in particular, to decompress and unwind.

What’s your most personal track and why?
“When A Child Is Born’ – Johnny Mathis. I used to play it in church, aged 7 – my father loved to hear it, particularly at Christmas.

Do you think music is therapeutic?

I often receive messages from people on social media relaying personal stories about the therapeutic effects of my music on them or people they care about and that is always heartwarming to hear.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Performing at the Classic BRIT Awards at the Royal Albert Hall, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with my daughter, Savannah, as the principal featured dancer was an amazing career highlight.

What advice would you give to burgeoning musicians?

Work hard, take time to hone your craft and take every opportunity to study your discipline, but not as an isolated entity. Harmony, orchestration, music production, improvisation, style and interpretation, music history, the music business are all areas I think are important for any aspiring musician.

You’re releasing your new album Evolution soon – what else is next for you? 

Lots of promotion for the album, a trip to Japan to promote a movie I have written the score for, exciting new music at Christmas with a seasonal theme, new tracks veering into ever more exciting territory in January and then other soundtrack projects, release and live projects.


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