Profile on Nicholas McCarthy, a pianist who was born without his right hand.
Nicholas McCarthy was born in 1989 without his right hand and only began to play the piano at the late age of 14 after seeing a friend play Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata. Studying at the prestigious Royal College of Music in London, his graduation in July 2012 made history and drew press headlines world wide, being the only left-hand alone pianist tograduate from the Royal College of Music in its 130 year history.
Nicholas has performed extensively throughout the UK in major venues including The Royal Albert Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields and the Wales Millennium Centre among others. Internationally Nicholas has performed at The Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C, The Capetown Convention Centre & The Linder Auditorium in South Africa, The Vilhena Palace and the Offices of the Prime Minister in Malta and the Abay Opera House Kazakhstan.
Nicholas is widely featured throughout national and international press and regularly gives live performances and interviews on television and radio including shows for BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, BBC television Channel 4 and ITV. Nicholas has been the subject of both a BBC documentary and feautured in one by Channel 4. Nicholas ‘s television appearances have been responsible for drawing a cross section of new audiences to his imaginative recitals, many of whom had never been to a piano recital.
Nicholas’ specialist repertoire is rich and varied encompassing numerous great pieces for left hand alone including original exciting pieces by Scriabin, Liszt and Brahms with striking arrangements of Schubert and Bach (Wittgenstein’s arrangements) Gershwin and some Chopin/Godowsky studies amongst others including Nicholas’ own transcriptions for left hand of more familiar ‘well known’ two handed piano works such as Chopin’s G Minor Ballade and Roses of Picardy by Haydn Wood. Nicholas’s programming caters for a broad range of classical and mainstream tastes. Besides this solo repertoire Nicholas also has numerous concertos in his repertoire. Famed not only for his virtuosic displays at the piano but also for his sensitive and warm interpretations.
One of Nicholas’s proudest moments was performing with the British Paraorchestra at the Closing Ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic games where they played alongside Coldplay and gave a rendition of the Paralympic anthem in front of an audience of 86,000 people and half a billion worldwide viewers.
Nicholas recently performed at the International Cheltenham Festival and gave an extensive range of Schools workshops in conjunction with this. July/August will see Nicholas present two of the world famous BBC Proms, to be televised on BBC4.
Nicholas is Patron of Carers Gloucestershire, Patron of Create and Patron of The Towersey Foundation and has recently been appointed ambassador of The One Handed Musicians Trust (OHMI) and keenly works alongside a number of other charities including The Tadworth Children’s Trust all of which are very close to Nicholas’s heart.
Speaking engagements have seen Nicholas speak across the country in a range of Schools and businesses including the annual ITV ‘Big Think’ Conference and most notably his TED Talk at The Royal Albert Hall.
paying tribute to an extraordinary legacy of music produced during the conflict for musicians who lost limbs. Compositions for the left hand alone began in the 19th century, but the horrific injuries caused by World War One generated a boom.
The programme pays tribute to Paul Wittgenstein, the Austrian pianist whose right arm was shot to pieces in the trenches but who responded by commissioning some of the greatest composers of the age, such as Ravel, Prokofiev and Britten, to write piano pieces for his left hand.
McCarthy, 25, who performed alongside Coldplay at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games, said: “I began to research the history of left-handed music and I was inspired by the bravery of these people who lost limbs but were determined to produce something positive out of their loss.”
McCarthy’s programme includes Scriabin’s Nocturne for the Left Hand and Wittgenstein’s own arrangement of Ave Maria. He will play Three Improvisations, composed for left hand only by Frank Bridge for Douglas Fox, a talented young pianist who lost his right arm in the conflict.
He will also play his transcription of the War anthem Roses of Picardy, which shell-shocked soldiers were encouraged to sing to help them regain their powers of speech. “Music from this period was used as an early form of therapy for injured soldiers,” the pianist said.
The concert will be attended by members of the Royal British Legion. McCarthy said: “Coming so close to Armistice Day, this is going to be the most difficult concert I have played emotionally. The concert is a tribute to all of those that have suffered and continue to suffer through War whether at home or overseas.”
McCarthy, a patron of Create, a charity which stages concerts for disabled children and their families, faced prejudice when he first set his heart on becoming a concert pianist at the age of 14 after watching a friend play a Beethoven sonata.
“I tried to get an audition at one piano school and a very old-school headmistress told me I could never play and just hung up the phone. I thought I would never get a chance.”
Determined to be judged by his musical potential rather than his disability, McCarthy auditioned at the Junior Guildhall School of Music and won a place. Instead of trying to adapt a traditional repertoire to one-handed playing, he began to investigate the history of left-handed music.
“I didn’t want to play only left-handed pieces but there was a much greater repertoire than I imagined: 28 piano concertos including Ravel’s concerto for left hand,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy’s audiences should not expect a traditional classical concert experience. “I don’t go for that stuffy approach. I talk throughout and tell funny anecdotes. It’s a way of getting more young people involved.”
Nicholas McCarthy performs Music In Remembrance at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral 7 November, Royal Albert Hall Elgar Room 9 November, The Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 11 November.