A Q & A With Classical Guitarist Manus Noble

All need to know about charity concert artist

Firstly, a little bit of your personal background and does music run in the family?

I'm 25 years old and was originally born in London, but I would call myself Irish! Although I sound very English, all of my family is from Ireland and that's where I would call home. Just the one older brother! Music does run in the family, but not professionally. My father was a very good Uilleann pipes and trumpet player, and, from what I've heard, my grandfather was a very good singer who was scouted to come over from Ireland to London but sadly didn't go!

Who or what first sparked your interest in the classical guitar?

Strangely, there was no initial spark at all. I remember when I was young being asked if I wanted to learn an instrument at school, and I immediately had this image of myself up on stage with a band, hammering out some solo on the electric guitar. I turned up to my first lesson, however, and was handed a half-size classical guitar. I didn't really know any better at the time and was quite content to continue and plod my way through the pieces!

Did you want to be a concert artist from the start?

I only really realised that this was what I wanted to do with my life when I went up to Manchester to see the guitarist, Gary Ryan, give a concert when I was 16 (Gary turned out to be my teacher for 4 years at the Royal College of Music). A stroke of luck really, as I had never seen a guitar concert before or heard any substantial repertoire for the instrument, and the flyer for the concert was just handed to me by my school teacher at that time because he couldn't go! I owe everything to Gary Ryan and Craig Ogden, who were my two principal teachers from then on.

Your first lessons were at age 7. Do you recall your first public performance?

I gave quite a few little performances at school concerts from the age of 7 onwards, but I didn't perform properly as a soloist until my late teens. I certainly wasn't a child prodigy giving full recitals at the age of 12, far from it!

The guitar is not a common instrument in a school environment. Presumably, you had to find a teacher outside?

The guitar is actually one of the most popular instruments by far in schools these days, which is great to see! It was very popular when I was at school, but yes I did actually get lessons privately with Craig Ogden from the age of 16-18 in order to prepare me for auditioning for college – an invaluable experience and I wouldn't be where I am today without him.

And then came the Royal College, Royal Academy, scholarships and prizes.  Which teachers were the main influences in your rapidly rising career?

Again it would have to be Gary Ryan, whose teachings and also hugely innovative compositional work inspired me greatly for many years (and still do). Whilst the traditional sound of the Spanish/classical guitar is still a beautiful one, Gary's particular tone was phenomenal and very unique, with his compositions really breaking down audience's preconceptions about what the guitar was about and the sorts of sounds that could be coaxed from the instrument. My teacher at the Royal Academy, Michael Lewin, was different in almost every way, but his seemingly infinite knowledge of the instrument and its repertoire was invaluable, and he helped me steer a career path for myself for when I graduated from my Masters.

Was there a ‘breakthrough’ moment when you felt you had reached a new level?

I was lucky enough to be accepted onto the Park Lane Group’s concert series at the Purcell Room in 2011, which really launched my career. I wouldn't quite call it a breakthrough moment, but it certainly got the ball rolling!

What has been the most exciting venue in which you’ve performed?

Venues like the Purcell Room, Wigmore Hall and Kings Place in London were all amazing places to be able to perform in early on in my career, but they were perhaps more stressful than exciting! I once performed for Spitalfields Music Festival, where I had to play in a candle-lit underground crypt with dancers on the stones in front of me with the audience in a sort of circle around us – definitely one of the more memorable venues! I seem to remember the audience having to wear dust masks during the performance (none for the performers for some reason...perhaps it looked  a little off-putting!).

It must be a real ‘juggling act’ to fit in all your concerto work, chamber music, masterclasses - and composing?

I find that is actually one of the most enjoyable aspects of a musician’s career! It's always interesting to see what is around the next corner and it definitely keeps you on your toes. If there was only one route to go down, I imagine it would be very taxing and stressful, but to have the flexibility to be able to compose, for example, when you are in the right mood or particularly inspired by something, or simply focus on teaching or performing during busy spells, keeps it healthy and interesting.

Do you have one particular unfulfilled ambition – or is life just a voyage of wonderful musical discovery?

I don't have a particular single dream that I'm desperate to accomplish, but there are definitely things that I want to accomplish during my career. Large amounts of fame or world-domination have never really been attractive to me, but I really want to just be able to play to the highest level that I can and inspire younger generations of players, whilst creatively leaving something behind. I see teaching as of equal importance to performing, and I have also realised more and more as time goes on that I hugely enjoy the creative side of composing new works for the instrument (especially as the instrument's repertoire is still relatively small!).

Where does the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez rank in your large catalogue of favourite repertoire? How would you ‘sell’ it to someone who had never heard it before?

The guitar takes on a completely different form when played as a solo instrument and supported by a full orchestra, so it would be difficult to compare! Personally I have always enjoyed the solitary, seductive nature of the instrument as a soloist, but Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez is certainly a formidable work, with the second movement in particular being filled with gut-wrenching emotional agony – nothing quite like it!

January 11, 2014