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

29 July 2021, 14:04

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

By Rosie Pentreath

Everything you need to know about the brilliant, history-making organist 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.

Lapwood was born in 1995 in Hertfordshire, meaning she’d earned all the above accolades before hitting 25. Impressive.

She went to school at Oxford High School and then went to Magdalen College, Oxford, where she gained a first class degree.

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

The first woman to hold an organ scholarship at Oxford University

She was also the first woman in Magdalen 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.

Magdalen College currently awards up to two organ scholarships a year.

The youngest ever Oxbridge director of music

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.

She 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.

Read more: An organist was put on hold for 70 minutes, so she played along with the hold music

Cambridge Organ Experience for Girls

Lapwood has also 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.”

She added: “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.”

Read more: ‘Young musicians need to be able to make mistakes. Now they live online forever’ – organist Anna Lapwood

The epic ‘Bach-a-thon’ for organists

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.

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.

This year (2021), she is releasing 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,” she continues. “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.

“A couple of years ago I was invited to give a recital as part of the Aldeburgh festival and was asked to include the small amount of organ music written by Britten. I wanted to try and do a transcription of ‘Dawn’. The project grew from there.”

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.