Having overcome a stroke, pianist David Syme will perform six concerts at UCC
“I couldn’t play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’.
A renowned classical pianist who overcame a stroke to teach himself to play again will recall his remarkable story at a special performance at University College Cork this spring.
David Syme, the UCC/Ritmüller Classical Artist in Residence will host a season of lecture concerts in UCC’s Aula Maxima over the coming weeks, beginning today, Wednesday, February 8th.
The series will culminate with a special event on March 22nd in which David will recall his recovery from a stroke he suffered on stage whilst performing in Waterville, Co. Kerry in 2017.
“I was playing a relatively simple passage, but the notes I was playing were not the notes I tried to play,” David recalls.
“I came to a sudden stop and told the audience I had to do it again, which I had never done before. I tried it again and my right hand would not work. I discovered my right side had become completely numb, I was immobilised.”
Luckily, two doctors happened to be in the audience and recognised the signs of a stroke immediately.
David would be eventually told that he would most likely never play again at a concert level.
“I couldn’t play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’, it was like my right hand was a tool that was separate, apart from my body. I was falling to the right when sitting at the piano, just slumping to one side,” he said.
A subsequent opportunity to play with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra in Illinois the following October was too tempting to turn down – David accepted the offer without disclosing his medical situation.
“I said I’d love to, I figured the worst that could happen was that I couldn’t play when the time came, and as of then I couldn’t anyway,” he said.
“I told my wife Suzanne and she said, ‘Are you crazy?’ but I said ‘I’m ambitious’”.
Five notes a day
David figured the performance – playing Rachmaninoff’s first concerto – would require him to play some 20,000 notes. With that, he started by focusing on playing five notes every day.
After four months the pianist contacted his friend Keith Pascoe and subsequently played with the Cork Fleischmann Symphony Orchestra in May 2018, roughly 10 months on from his stroke.
It went so well that David was able to play without any noticeable deterioration in his performance. He made it to that Illinois performance and continued to play, only recently revealing his struggle.
Now the UCC/Ritmüller Classical Artist in Residence, David will give a series of concert performances in the coming weeks, featuring the works of Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Chopin, and Schumann.
Since 2020 David has been a brand ambassador for the Pearl River Piano Group in China, which has granted an extended loan of a Ritmüller concert grand piano to UCC, which now resides in the Aula Maxima.
Tickets to David’s lecture concert series are available now here.