Interview with Alexandra Whittingham: A Journey from Viral Sensation to Decca Classics Artist

In the ever-evolving landscape of classical music, few artists manage to break through traditional boundaries and captivate audiences as effectively as Alexandra Whittingham. From her humble beginnings in Manchester to becoming a viral sensation and now a signed artist with the prestigious Decca Classics label, Alexandra’s journey is as inspiring as it is remarkable.

Her innovative approach to sharing classical music through social media has garnered millions of views and a dedicated following. By blending the old with the new, Alexandra has found a unique way to make classical music accessible and relatable to a modern audience. In this exclusive interview, Alexandra shares the pivotal moments that shaped her career, the inspiration behind her creative videos, and her hopes for the future of classical music.

Join us as we delve into the world of this extraordinary guitarist, exploring her path from a young girl inspired by her father’s guitar playing to an internationally recognized artist, passionate about making classical music inclusive for all. Discover how Alexandra’s diverse musical influences, her commitment to authenticity, and her innovative collaborations continue to redefine what it means to be a classical musician in the 21st century.

Congratulations on signing with Decca Classics, Alexandra! How does it feel to have your talent recognised by such a prestigious label?

Thank you! Decca has always been such an iconic label in my eyes, and it’s so exciting to have the opportunity to work with them. The team is fantastic, and I can’t wait for everybody to see what we’ve been working on.

Your journey from Manchester to becoming a viral classical sensation is truly remarkable. Can you share with us some key moments or experiences that shaped your path in music?

I always say that I owe so much to Tom Gradwell, who suggested filming videos for my YouTube channel. He’s a fantastic photographer and wanted to try his hand at videography, so we filmed three videos in one day in an old cotton mill in Bolton. A few months later, the videos started to get more views than we could ever imagine. That changed the course of my career, and I owe so much to Tom for suggesting we give it a go!

Your creative videos on social media have garnered millions of views and a massive following. What inspired you to start sharing your music in this way, and how has it impacted your career?

I’ve always felt very passionate about making classical music more accessible. I believe we have to present it in ways that everybody can relate to, otherwise it quickly becomes something that people could see as elitist or ‘not intended for them.’ When my performance videos started to take off, I saw this as an opportunity to let people behind the curtain and show them that it’s not all perfection and what you see in the final edit. This is why I enjoy making vlogs about practicing and what really goes on behind the scenes, as it’s important to show people that classical musicians are human too and we all make mistakes, get nervous, and don’t feel our best from time to time.

The recent viral video revealing the classical inspiration behind the Nokia ringtone garnered a lot of attention. What sparked the idea for that video, and what has the response been like from viewers?

It just dawned on me one day that perhaps not everybody knows where the Nokia theme actually comes from! It’s funny, but because most classical guitarists know that it’s taken from a piece called Gran Vals by Francisco Tarrega, we assume that everybody else knows this too. It was crazy to see the reaction online; I definitely didn’t expect it to go viral. I think it ended up having around 15 million views!

Growing up listening to artists like The 1975 and Oasis, how have these influences shaped your approach to classical guitar music?

I’ve always felt that the guitar is an incredibly versatile instrument, and for that reason, I’m quite reluctant to brand myself as a ‘classical guitarist,’ even though 99% of the time that is what I do! I think the reason behind that is partly because I grew up listening to so many different kinds of music and had role models that I looked up to from all different backgrounds. In short, listening to these bands has helped me keep an open mind when it comes to the way I view classical music.

You mentioned that you started playing guitar at the age of seven and later transitioned to classical Spanish guitar music. What drew you to this genre, and how did it influence your musical development?

From an early age, I learned the basics from my dad and then went on to have private lessons playing rock and pop music. I remember walking into a lesson one day and hearing my teacher reading through some Spanish music on a nylon string guitar, and from that moment on, that’s what I wanted to do! I think a big part of it was the fact that it’s a sound world I’d never really considered was possible on the guitar, and I think that at the time I knew I’d be able to express myself much more through this kind of instrument.

Your debut releases with Decca Classics showcase a fresh perspective on classical music. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind these arrangements and what listeners can expect from your upcoming tracks?

The singles I’m currently releasing span a range of genres and styles, which I honestly think shows how many different influences I have and styles I’ve been dying to explore. We’ve recorded film music, an anime soundtrack, original guitar compositions, and some amazing arrangements of piano music.

Collaborating with Brazilian guitarist Plínio Fernandes on two of the tracks sounds exciting. What was it like working with him, and how did his style complement yours?

Plínio and I studied together at music college and have been good friends since, so it was such a fun experience working with him! The arrangements we recorded were written by Michael Lewin, who taught both of us at music college. I think that because Michael is so familiar with our individual styles of playing, he was able to write the arrangements in a way that really brings out the best of both of us—both individually and as a duo.

As a young classical artist, you’re breaking down traditional boundaries in the genre. How important is it for you to bring classical music to a wider audience, and what steps do you take to achieve that?

I come from an area where music and the arts aren’t particularly well-funded, nor are they seen as being ‘for everybody.’ This led me to feel huge imposter syndrome when I first got accepted into music school at the age of eleven, because I felt so far behind everybody else in my understanding of classical music. I now use my YouTube and social media channels to show my audience what real life is like in the industry, whilst also making unedited videos of my practice so that students or aspiring musicians can see that nobody is perfect and everything takes hard work! Education also plays a big part in what I do, and when I can, I love to go into schools and hold workshops on this topic.

Finally, what are your hopes and aspirations for the future of your career in classical music, both in terms of artistic growth and reaching new audiences?

I have a very open mind about the future! Two of my favorite things about being a professional musician are seeing new places and meeting new people. Being able to combine that with playing an instrument you love really feels like you’ve hit the jackpot, so I’d love to carry on exploring in that sense. A dream of mine is to commission some new repertoire for the guitar; working with composers is something I’ve always had a real interest in!

Your background as the daughter of a window cleaner is quite unique in the classical music world. How did your family support your musical pursuits, and what role did they play in your journey?

I couldn’t be luckier with how supportive and amazing my parents are; they are honestly the reason I’m able to pursue music professionally. They drove me to every music lesson, competition, concert, talent contest (yes, I begged them to take part in Blackpool’s Got Talent when I was nine!), and I owe them so much. I think the fact that they never pushed me to play the guitar or practice really made me realize that if I wanted to stick at this, it was going to be my choice.

You mentioned starting with rock and pop songs before discovering classical Spanish guitar music. How do you think your diverse musical upbringing has influenced your style as a classical guitarist?

It’s definitely helped me to not close any doors or be close-minded musically. I think that with an instrument like the guitar, it’s so important to explore what it’s capable of both within and outside of the classical space.

Could you share a bit about your experiences studying at Chetham’s School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music? How did those institutions shape you as a musician?

I began studying at Chetham’s when I was eleven and struggled a lot at first (mainly because I went from doing 30 minutes of practice per week to having to do three hours per day!). I was there for seven years and have actually just become a guitar teacher there alongside my former professor, which is surreal! When I was accepted to the Royal Academy in London, I think that’s where things really changed for me. My teacher there, Michael Lewin, was so invested in each of his students, and I got an incredible amount out of his lessons. He really ensured that his students were well-rounded musicians, and I owe a lot to him!

Alexandra Whittingham

Social media has played a significant role in your career, with millions of followers across various platforms. How do you navigate the digital landscape to connect with your audience while staying true to your artistic vision?

I’ve always found ‘keeping my integrity’ to be a very personal thing. I haven’t once posted or recorded anything that I don’t enjoy playing, and for this reason, I find that staying true to my artistic vision is much easier than it sounds. I’m also a very open book online, and the personality that you see in my videos is exactly what I’m like in real life, so I feel like I’ve never tried to be something I’m not, if that makes sense!

Balancing a burgeoning career with personal life can be challenging. How do you manage your time between your musical endeavours and other aspects of your life?

I do struggle sometimes with the ‘from one extreme to another’ aspect of being a musician. We can be away for a month or two and then come home and have no concerts for a month. I always make sure I put some time aside (maybe a few days) for doing non-musical things and switching off after a tour. For me, it’s important to have hobbies and friends outside of music, which I feel incredibly lucky to have.

Your debut releases feature a mix of classical pieces, guitar miniatures, and transcriptions of popular themes. What draws you to this eclectic range of repertoire, and how do you approach arranging and interpreting each piece?

I’ve always felt so fortunate to play an instrument that can suit so many styles of music. Because of this, the music I listen to definitely influences the way that I play. Before recording a piece, I’ll often try to listen to as many different recordings and versions of it as possible. If it’s a new arrangement, it’s pretty exciting as you get to make it your own.

Collaboration seems to be a key aspect of your musical journey, as seen with your work with Plínio Fernandes. Are there any other artists you’d love to collaborate with in the future?

Working with other musicians is one of my favourite things to do! Lots of my friends grew up playing in youth orchestras, but because the guitar isn’t an orchestral instrument, I only experienced playing in this setting when I first performed as a soloist with an orchestra a few years ago—this is something I can’t wait to do more of in the future.

Your journey from viral sensation to signing with Decca Classics is quite inspiring. What advice would you give to other aspiring musicians looking to carve out their own path in the industry?

As cliché as it might sound, you really have to love what you do. I’ve always felt like an audience can instantly tell whether or not you’re enjoying the music you’re making. You’re also never going to please everybody. There will always be people who don’t necessarily agree with everything you do or how you’re doing it, but as long as it makes you happy, that shouldn’t matter!

In addition to being a talented guitarist, you’re also a passionate communicator. How do you infuse your personality and message into your performances and interactions with your audience?

I think it’s so important to show the human side of performing: how we get nervous, we make mistakes, and we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously. I really feel like when I’m on stage I don’t have to speak differently or think too much about how I’m coming across, which is what makes it so enjoyable. It took me a long time to feel this comfortable, but I can appreciate that as an audience member I’d want to see a performer I can relate to and who isn’t having to suppress their personality to fit into the ‘classical norm.’

Looking ahead, what are some of your long-term goals as an artist, both in terms of musical exploration and leaving a lasting impact on the classical music world?

I have so many different things that I’d like to explore musically—new commissions, collaborations, etc. I’d love to grow the audience I’ve built online and carry on touring both solo and with other musicians. I also look forward to finding new ways to bring music education to schools in deprived areas and making it much more accessible because I benefited so much from schemes that enabled me to do what I’m doing now.

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