Ulster Orchestra: One-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy makes Ulster Hall concert truly memorable

One-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy (Photo: Submitted)
One-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy (Photo: Submitted)

The star was the solo pianist Nicholas McCarthy who was born without a right arm, but has made a distinguished career in classical music. As the only one-handed pianist to graduate from the Royal College of Music he made world headlines, and his outstanding achievement was recognized by the award of Honorary Membership conferred in 2018 by its President King Charles.

He is also the Belfast International Arts Festival Featured Artist for 2023.

The mainstays of the concert were his performances of piano music for the left hand by Britten and Ravel respectively, after commissions from Paul Wittgenstein, who became a one-armed pianist following an injury while serving with the former Austro-Hungarian Army Nicholas McCarthy gave a sparkling performance of Britten’s Diversions (Left Hand) for Soloist and Orchestra, and after the interval his performance of the complex Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand was equally impressive.

It was wonderful to hear a one-handed performer producing such range and tone. Mr McCarthy rightly received an enthusiastic response from the large audience and the Orchestra .

The concert began with Britten’s powerful Four Sea Interludes from his opera Peter Grimes, The final piece maintained a nautical theme with Debussys’ evocative La Mer with its turbulent ending, which brought the concert to a stirring close. Incidentally the Orchestra has recorded the Britten piece with Vernon Handley and the Ravel with Yan Pascal Tortelier, two landmark conductors in its history.

During the interval I talked to a London visitor who was most complementary about the Ulster Hall and the “amazing “ quality of the Orchestra, and quite rightly so This is one of the best concert venues in Europe, as visiting conductors and soloists keep telling me, and the Ulster Orchestra is now one of the best in these islands.

There is nothing like hearing it “ live” at its best to .refresh the soul.

Don’t miss its next big concert in the Ulster Hall on 3 November when the Chief Conductor Daniele Rustioni takes the Orchestra through an attractive programme including Prokofiev’s amazing and inspiring 5th Symphony.