Talking Music: Nicholas McCarthy Discusses Piano Recital at St David’s Hall, Cardiff

THE Autumn & Winter Lunchtime Concerts season at St David’s Hall continues with virtuoso left-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy on Tuesday 15 October.

Starting at 1pm, Nicholas performs a beautiful programme of including Richard Strauss, Bach, Rachmaninov and more.

Nicholas was born in 1989 without his right hand and only began to play the piano at the late age of 14. Having once been told that he would never succeed as a concert pianist, Nicholas would not be discouraged and went on to study at the prestigious Royal College of Music in London.

Neil Collins has a quick chat with Nicholas McCarthy ahead of his Lunchtime Concert at the National Concert Hall of Wales…

How did you come to choose these pieces and are they personal favourites?

When it comes to choosing pieces for a programme, I always aim to take my audiences on a journey. Most people haven’t heard a great deal of left-hand alone repertoire, so I want them to leave my concerts with a great snapshot of the fantastic repertoire that’s available.

How did you first discover your love for the piano?

I was in my school assembly when a fellow class made was performing Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata. I really had one of those lightbulb moments where I thought “I love this, I want to do this as my career!” The funny thing is I had little thought to the fact that I was born without my right hand, so I should probably thank teenage invincibility and spirit for my career choice!

Nicholas McCarthy plays st David’s Hall on Tuesday October 15, 2019Nicholas McCarthy plays st David’s Hall on Tuesday October 15, 2019

Nicholas McCarthy plays st David’s Hall on Tuesday October 15, 2019

What was it like studying at London’s prestigious Royal College of Music? You must’ve been so proud to become the only one-handed pianist to graduate in its 130-year history and later receive an honorary membership from Prince Charles?

It was wonderful, hard work of course, but wonderful. Even today when I happen to be passing the RCM, I have a huge sense of pride to have had the opportunity to study there; especially as one of very few physically disabled musicians working in the industry today.

In September 2012, you shared the stage with the likes of Coldplay when you performed with the British Paraorchestra at the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games. Was that one of your proudest moments?

Definitely. It was my first public performance after graduating from RCM, and really helped to launch my career as it was seen by half a billion global viewers. It was a perfect platform to share my passion for music. It was nerve-wracking and certainly every concert since has not beaten the 86,000 audience for that first performance!

You have toured extensively throughout the UK, Europe, Asia and USA. What have been your fondest memories?

My fondest memories are of my numerous tours in Japan and South Korea. Both countries have very different cultures and qualities and I enjoy performing there very much. One special moment was performing outside in the middle of Japan’s famous Shibuya – the hectic and busy part of the city seemed to go still and silent whilst I performed my arrangement of Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. It was quite magical, and I will never forget that moment.

In recent years, you have become an inspiring motivational speaker at a wide range of schools, businesses and institutions including at TED Talk at the Royal Albert Hall. How did all that come about? And what have you got coming up?

I naturally fell into motivational speaking and was invited to give TEDx’s largest talk they’ve ever done at the Royal Albert Hall in front of 6,000 people! This put me on the speaking industry map, and since then half of my year is taken up with speaking engagements for businesses and large conferences all over the world. I recently gave a second TED Talk for TEDxVienna. I enjoy it hugely and love inspiring people. Even if I just inspire one person in an audience it makes me very happy.

Please tell us a bit about your music education work with young people and your involvement with charities like Nordoff Robbins, The One-Handed Musicians Trust (OHMI) and Create music and arts charities.

I’m very passionate about music education and am very sad about the lack of it in this country due to lack of funding in this area. Music is a universal language and has been scientifically proven to help develop children’s brains, so it baffles me why in our country we turn our backs on this huge area in education.

Whenever I can, I go into schools to give talks, masterclasses and concerts just to keep music in the forefront of the students’ minds. It really is so important. I’m very proud to be an ambassador for the charities mentioned. Each has its own agenda and focus, which does wonderful things in the field of the arts and wider. Each charity I’m involved with really does change people’s lives for the better.


  1. Scriabin Nocturne Op 9

  2. Richard Strauss (arr J. Mann) Morgen! Op 27 No 4

  3. Carl Reinecke Sonata in C minor Op 179

  4. Bach (arr Brahms) Chaconne in D minor

  5. Bellini (arr Fumagalli) Casta Diva

  6. Rachmaninov (arr McCarthy) Prelude in G Minor Op 23 No 5