Who is Anna Lapwood? The trailblazing organist and conductor’s age, biography and performances

17 January 2024, 09:49

How does a pipe organ actually work? | Anna Lapwood | Classic FM

Classic FM

By Classic FM

Everything you need to know about Anna Lapwood MBE – brilliant, history-making organist, TikTok star, and director of music at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

Anna Lapwood is an organist, conductor, broadcaster and director of music at the prestigious Pembroke College, Cambridge. In the 2024 New Year Honours, she was awarded MBE for her services to music.

Lapwood was born in 1995 in High Wycombe. Buckinghamshire, meaning she’d earned all the above accolades before hitting her mid-20s.

She went to school at Oxford High School and then went to Magdalen College, Oxford, where she not only gained a first class degree, but was also the first woman in the college’s illustrious 560-year history to be awarded an organ scholarship.

Organ scholars at Oxford are appointed by 22 of the university’s individual colleges, and recipients play the organ for chapel services while directing or assisting in the work of that college’s choir.

Today, Anna is one of classical music’s biggest stars, coined by the New York Times as “the world’s most visible organist”. She regularly brings in million of views on TikTok with her late-night practice videos at the Royal Albert Hall, where she is an associate artist.

Read more: Anna Lapwood plays ‘How to Train your Dragon’ on mighty Baroque organ

Anna Lapwood conducts the Leeds Lieder festival
Anna Lapwood conducts the Leeds Lieder festival. Picture: Robert Piwko

Does Anna Lapwood teach the organ?

When she was 21, Lapwood became the youngest person in history to hold the director of music position at an Oxbridge college when she became director of music at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

Today, she still conducts the college’s Chapel Choir and in 2018, she founded the Pembroke College Girls’ Choir, which invites girls between the ages of 11 and 18 from local schools to perform at the college’s evensong services.

Lapwood established the Cambridge Organ Experience for Girls, which she runs on a yearly basis.

Speaking to Classic FM in 2019 she said, “When I took up the organ, I really had no idea what world I was getting into… I feel there’s a responsibility to help provide the opportunity for young girls to realise they could be an organist too. I think the reason they don’t take it up is because they don’t even think about it.

“They don’t see visible female role models playing the organ. It tends to be seen as either something for a certain kind of man or a little old lady, and that’s not something a little girl is going to aspire to be.”

At Pembroke, Lapwood also runs an annual ‘Bach-a-thon’ where a team of organists come together to play all of the great Baroque composer’s complete works for the instrument – and in 2018 all the organ participants were female.

Read more: ‘Young girls can be organists too,’ says pioneering musician Anna Lapwood

Where does Anna Lapwood perform?

As an organist, Lapwood has performed at London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall and St Thomas Church in New York, among other high profile appearances.

In the small hours of the morning, Lapwood can often be found practising and recording videos for TikTok and Instagram at the historic 9,999-pipe organ of the Royal Albert Hall, where she is Associate Artist (take a look on her TikTok account here).

Anna’s midnight sessions have brought up some spontaneous encounters and collaborations, including with composer-pianist Ludovico Einaudi, and electronic musician Bonobo. After meeting the musician, Anna ended up helping them close their show at the Albert Hall 18 hours later, to a live audience of 5,000 and a social media audience of millions.

How to Train your Dragon... on the ORGAN! | Anna Lapwood

What albums has Anna Lapwood released?

In 2021, she released her debut solo album, a recording of her organ transcription of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Four Sea Interludes’ from Peter Grimes, on Signum Records.

“As a child I spent many holidays walking through the wind and rain on Aldeburgh beach,” Lapwood writes in the programme notes. “My dad grew up in Suffolk and actually played the violin for Britten in Orford Parish Church as a child.

“The Four Sea Interludes were the first of Britten’s pieces that I got to know in depth through playing the harp part. I remember being struck by how accurately they captured the spirit of that part of the country, whether the sounds of the sea or the bustle of a Sunday morning with church bells ringing across the landscape.”

In February 2023, Anna signed exclusively to Sony Classical. Her first venture with the label was an EP release in April, Midnight Sessions at the Royal Albert Hall, in celebration of her late-night practice sessions.

Her debut album Luna, which included as a first single ‘On the Nature of Daylight’, was released in September 2023.

Organist Anna Lapwood plays an epic Bach Fantasia at the Royal Albert Hall | Classic FM

Does Anna Lapwood play any other instruments?

As well as the organ, Lapwood can play the piano, violin, viola and the harp, which she played in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Classic FM’s Orchestra of Teenagers.

When she was younger, the multi-instrumentalist became fascinated with new instruments almost every week, and has admitted she would introduce herself with the line “my name is Anna Lapwood and I play 20 instruments”.

Lapwood is also a composer, and she studied composition at Junior Royal Academy of Music. And she sings.

She continues to perform regularly, and appear as a presenter on various TV and radio programmes, while carrying out her director of music duties at Cambridge.

Watch more videos of Anna Lapwood by subscribing to Classic FM’s YouTube Channel.