Alexis Ffrench is not afraid to associate his music with important subjects. For years, this pioneering pianist has used his music to promote themes such as mental health and diversity, and tries to make the world of classical music more open and inclusive.
His new album Truth, the most powerful and political of his discography to date, but also the most optimistic. “I imagined what the world would look like if everyone had the opportunity to ask themselves the questions ‘who am I?’ and ‘what is my purpose in the world?’ and what we, as human species, we could create and change together.” Featuring Alexis’ signature piano-orchestra soundtrack, as well as two collaborations including one with friend and pop singer Leona Lewis, Truth captures the musician’s hopes for the future and his belief that change is already happening. operate.
“Usually I’m suspicious of any political statement,” says the best-selling British classical composer, whose songs have been streamed half a billion times, “but sometimes you have to put your head above the parapet . Truth was born out of an intensely personal moment. These songs are my reaction to that.”
That moment came the morning after the death of George Floyd. Alexis watched the video of his murder in disbelief and tried to make sense of it the only way he knew how: sitting at his piano, composing. Over the next few weeks, he watched reports of protests around the world, adding musical accompaniment to scenes of marches and chanting crowds. “After the grief came anger, then helplessness,” says Alexis. “I asked myself what I could do as a musician, isolated at that time by the pandemic and unable to join forces with others. I started on my small scale, on the piano. was activism for myself, because I needed to feel involved, and it was important for me to use my music to express the hopes and fears of the voiceless and to encourage others to express themselves too their true voice.
Alexis doesn’t just talk about change. He frequently posts tutorials on YouTube and social media to help young musicians develop their skills. Last year he announced the launch of two annual scholarships to study at the Royal Academy of Music, his alma mater, supported by Sony Music’s Social Justice Fund.
“We are currently at the stage of reviewing applications for the first promotion,” explains Alexis, who leads the jury responsible for selecting the winners. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Studying at the Academy has changed my life and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I want other musicians, from all walks of life, to be able to experience the same experience.”
Last January, Alexis was appointed a member of the governing body and trustee of the Royal Academy. “It’s a proud moment for me to be able to make changes from within,” he says. “I have a role to play in helping shape the classical musicians of tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Alexis is pushing her own music forward. his album Truth is a collection of concise and compelling pieces, by a musician who has always been driven by this desire to make classical music accessible to as many people as possible, since its success at the top of the classical charts in Great Britain in 2018. “My songs are short and structured like pop because that’s how I can have the most impact with my melodies.I grew up with the greats – Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley – as much as classical music. My goal is to make classical music accessible to everyone. Most of the messages I get are from teenagers and 20 year olds who have never listened to classical music before.”
Truth was recorded at the world-famous Real World Studios near Bath, working remotely with a 70-piece orchestra in a custom-built studio in Vienna. New technologies allowed him to control the mixer, but it was not easy.
“The orchestra was amazing – they do the music for Marvel movies and work with Hans Zimmer – but getting everything in sync was a nightmare,” says Alexis. “It was a high stakes, riskiest recording I’ve ever done.”
The first title to be released, Guiding Light, speaks of a higher power and is dedicated to loved ones who are no longer with us. “My mental health suffered last year because I felt I wasn’t doing enough – and because I didn’t tell my dad I loved him until the day before he died. I got into piano and that feeling of helplessness and breathlessness turned into a piece that represented the broad spectrum of emotions that I was experiencing.”
Truth was recorded from a vast collection of pianos, necessary to stick to the new production techniques used. “One of them was a magnificent Bosendorfer grand piano,” says Alexis. “Another was hushed. The weirdest was a very old piano last used by Harry Styles. It had an ugly sound, really honky tonk, which was exactly what I was looking for. on this piano I open and close Canyons, a song about self-doubt. In between, it merges into the Bosendorfer, so the sounds go on a journey, literally through deep canyons.”
The artist, who usually writes, orchestrates, performs and produces all his albums, has worked with author John Maguire (Calum Scott, Leona Lewis, Tom Chaplin) on One Look, a classic-soul anthem that gives chills. “In writing One Look, I could hear lyrics,” says Alexis. “It’s scary for me to trust someone else with my music, but John has written so many amazing songs and he has a real ear for pop melodies. Leona also contributed. We had many meetings around Zoom, we talked about our own experiences and what we wanted to express in the lyrics. His voice is spectacular.
She has a plaintive quality that was perfect for the song. I am immensely proud of this collaboration.”
Elsewhere on Truth, soaring Broken Sunsets reflects the composer’s hope for a brighter future, Golden is a twinkling light that illuminates the path ahead, and fans may recognize Songbird as the follow-up to Bluebird, the hit single from his Evolution disc, which introduced him to the general public in 2018.
An album born out of feelings of grief, despair, anger and injustice, Truth is proof of the power of community, positive thinking and collective healing. The maestro may be wary of politics, but as always, the result is an intoxicating record.