Concert pianist despite use of just one hand

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By Paul Boekkooi

The 23-year-young British pianist Nicholas McCarthy, who was born without a right hand and recently performed at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympics, will give three recitals in South Africa in the next fortnight. Paul Boekkooi corresponded with him and has the details.

Nicholas McCarthy made a tough and challenging decision regarding his professional life. Born with only the use of his left hand, he did not allow anything to stand in the way of his becoming a concert pianist.

At the age of 14, he discovered his talent, went all out to master his instrument and, against all odds, won himself a place at the Royal College of Music, London, where he made history as the only left-handed pianist to graduate from the institution. This all happened in the college’s centenary year, and less than a year ago.

Although he has performed at the Offices of the Prime Minister of Malta and at last year’s Paralympics, alongside the Para-orchestra and Coldplay, his forthcoming South African tour is his first international one, and will be the springboard for tours to other continents he has planned for later this year.

Since his graduation, he’s become of the most active British concert pianist, performing solo and with top-class orchestras in the UK, and making regular appearances on television and radio.

In a review of one of his concerts published by The Times, the “sheer poetry” of his playing was mentioned.

South African music lovers who are enamoured of Romantic pianism, will be fully rewarded by McCarthy’s three forthcoming live performances: at Cape Town’s International Conference Centre on 9 February, in the Durban City Hall on 13 February, and his final one on 15 February at the Linder Auditorium, Wits Education Campus, Parktown, Joburg. All these concerts will commence at 7.30pm.

Although McCarthy will perform several original pieces composed for the left hand, most of his repertoire will consist of arrangements of two-hand pieces for the left hand by Paul Wittgenstein, Count Geza Zichy and him.

He’ll perform the Fantasy in G Minor by Bach, arranged by Liszt; Piano Sonata in C Minor, Opus 179, by Reinecke; Prelude and Nocturne, Opus 9, by Scriabin; Meditation on Prelude No 1 by Bach, arranged by Gounod; Morgen, Opus 27, No 4 by Richard Strauss, arranged by Mann; Liszt’s Paraphrase on Il Trovatore, arranged by Pfeiffer; the Étude in A Flat Major, Opus 36, by Blumenfeld; Schubert’s Du bist die Ruh and Erlkönig, both arranged by Liszt; Casta Diva from Bellini’s Norma, arranged by Fumagalli; and a very light, frothy piece titled M’appari-Charbonnet.

“There are a total of about 28 piano concertos for the left hand, a lot of which were commissioned by Wittgenstein.

“He also expanded the solo piano repertoire through his transcriptions. Without him, my repertoire would be so much more limited,” McCarthy says.

Playing with the left hand alone is, according to McCarthy, not only unbelievably different from two-hand pianism – one has to build up great stamina and balance – but the pedalling technique is also very challenging.

• Book for all three concerts through Computicket.

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