“What it takes” — Nicholas McCarthy

I’ve heard more than a few people — all of them amateur wannabes — make the following observations about the one-armed wonderboy of the UK, Nicholas McCarthy.

Now, full disclosure — I really like his work. Not only do I love the era from which most of his rep originates (late Romantic), but I think his inherent style suits that era very well. He’s in the fortunate position of not, for example, being a Baroque stylist by nature but fitting in the era he has little choice but to perform … well, (left) hand in glove.

In addition to fitting the aesthetic of the era well, he also fits the aesthetic of left-hand rep very well. Left-hand piano rep is almost always hugely difficult to perform, either because it was written for existing pianists who lost the use of their right arms or because it was written as show-off stuff for two-armed pianists who wanted to make everyone gasp over what they could accomplish with “one arm tied behind their backs.”

And I think he exudes an aura of aristocratic negligence that suits this sort of sentimental “I’m not even breathing hard” rep very well.

But whenever someone comes along in that sort of situation, there are always naysayers who crowd around.

“There isn’t enough left hand rep to perform as a concert pianist for all of one’s life.” Said by someone who thinks that Ravel’s Concerto is all there is, or who obviously feels that classical performance is limited to dead-guy music, with new commissioned works and performer arrangements considered less valid.

“He’s very good but he’s just got a career because he only has one arm.” (Ah, the pity card.) No, he’s got a career because he’s a stubborn bastard who works his ass off and was capable of sitting in an 80,000-seat stadium and performing for a worldwide television audience without crapping himself — and when he was only in his early 20s. That all matters a thousand times more than pretty much anything else.

He’s an excellent musician, has a ton of rep to perform, has great visibility to commission new works, and clearly has a head like a rock and the stomach for travel and performance venues that would send anyone else into fear-based fits.

He’ll be fine. I look forward very much to what he’ll do next. No more of this presenting others at the BBC Proms; I want to see and hear him onstage next time.

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