Francis began his musical life as a chorister at New College, Oxford, in the mid-1960s. He held an open music scholarship at Winchester College and then at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he studied composition with Robin Holloway and Hugh Wood while also pursuing piano studies privately in London with the distinguished British artist, Hamish Milne.
Throughout the 1990s Francis was John Bennett Lecturer in Music at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, and also a lay clerk in the Choir of Winchester Cathedral. In 2001 he became Head of London College of Music, University of West London, later leading research across the institution’s wider Faculty of Arts and acceding in 2007 to the University’s first ever Chair in Composition; he also holds the MA and postgraduate MusB degrees of the University of Cambridge, a Fellowship of London College of Music [FLCM] a PhD and a Principal Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy [PFHEA].
Francis prefers to see himself as one of a long line of composer-pianists for whom advanced pianism is a means to another end, and less as a ‘career’ performer; he regards playing as merely one among many manifestations of ‘being a musician’. Nonetheless, he has been heard a number of times playing his own piano music on BBC Radio 3, has participated in a number of commercial CD recordings and has appeared at prestigious venues such as London’s Wigmore Hall. He treasures the review of an Oxford critic who in the 1980s dubbed him ‘a pianist possessed by a thousand devils’ after a performance of Liszt’s Dante Sonata, seemingly with approval. He has done his best to live up – or down – to this ever since. In demand as a soloist and accompanist, he has also maintained piano duo partnerships with Roger Owens and Jeremy Filsell, the latter his predecessor as accompanist to Vivace and a brilliant exponent of his organ compositions over the past 30 years.
Francis’s music has been heard in more than forty countries worldwide, extensively released on CD and published by five leading houses in the UK, including Edition Peters, with whom he signed an exclusive contract in 2013. He has received four national and two international awards for composition. In 2004 he received Honorable Mention in the Barlow International Composing Prize in the USA, placed second in a worldwide field of 362 composers. He has twice been a nominated finalist at the BASCA/BBC Annual Composer Awards, held in London. He is an acknowledged authority on the music of the émigré Russian composer-pianist Nicolas Medtner, on whom he is working on a full-length critical study when time permits.
Francis is a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Grocers and a Freeman of the City of London. He lives in a village on the outskirts of Winchester with his wife Ginny and has two children aged 20 and 16 (both following in his musical footsteps).
Photography by Rumen Mitchinov