When Nicholas McCarthy was 14 years old, he fell in love with the piano.
He loved it enough that even though he’d been born without a right hand, he began taking piano lessons near his home in Tadworth, Britain, and later went to London’s GuildHall School of Music and Drama at the age of 17.
Though he encountered some prejudice — he was once denied an audition at a school for pianists — McCarthy said he learned to turn the negatives into positives and welcomed the challenges that came with playing with one hand.
“I’ve always been very determined, very focused,” he said today. “I think after a couple of days of being upset, I can pick myself up and work really hard. You just have to be strong and carry on.”
And carry on he did. Last month, McCarthy, 23, graduated from the Royal College of Music as the only left-handed — and one-handed — pianist in the school’s history.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said after graduation. “It was quite emotional. Four years of working with a lot of different people.”
On Friday, he will play a concert with a friend in Malta for the Offices of the Prime Minister.
He’s released his own album and in 2011, he received the International AMI award for creative excellence in music.
It was at London’s GuildHall that McCarthy said he started thinking about left-hand repertoires, which were written by composers as a way of impressing audiences.
He said playing pieces just for the left hand made practice — five to six hours daily — more interesting.
“It’s written very cleverly, but you’ve got to be very quick and good with the pedaling to sustain the bass notes while playing the top notes,” he told the BBC.
He said two of his favorite left-hand pieces were Ravel’s “Piano Concerto of the Left Hand” and Scriabin’s “Prelude and Nocturne.”
“A lot of people know about the Ravel. … It’s a beautiful work,” McCarthy said. “‘Prelude,’ it was my first left-hand piece I’d ever played.”
McCarthy, who is also a member of Britain’s first disabled orchestra, said his dreams include playing at Carnegie Hall in New York and scoring a record deal.
“I’m happy to wait for those,” he said. “Things like that will come along when it’s meant to be. … If you believe in yourself, anything is possible.”