Aristo Sham, pianist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

It just always seemed like the most natural thing to do. I didn’t actively choose music in particular, somehow the forces of nature just swept me into it, and I am very grateful for it. Of course, I am inspired by the miracles in music every day I get to work with them.

I owe a lot (or everything!) to my mentors over the years, from Professor Eleanor Wong in Hong Kong, to Professor Colin Stone in the UK, Professor Victor Rosenbaum in the US, and Professor Julia Mustonen-Dahlkvist in Sweden, along with countless other musical angels in my life.

Musically, I am also very much influenced by other genres of music, such as Hip-hop and House – I find their sonorities very delicious and infectious. But the most important influence and force remains the music and composers that I get to know everyday – Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Prokofiev…

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I have a rather conventional ‘child prodigy’ background, which is in itself a blessing and a curse, and transitioning out of that into the ‘real world’ was and has been a significant but rewarding challenge.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

The first time(s) I felt that I was playing in the ‘real world’, no longer a child, was in the Dublin and Gina Bachauer competitions in 2018 – in particular the Prokofiev Third Concerto from the former and Brahms Handel Variations from the latter. Otherwise, Rach 3 with Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra was another highlight that I learnt a lot from and one that I can be proud of.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I am drawn to works that are usually more cerebral in character. I love complicated structures borne out of the simplest motifs – the compositional techniques of Beethoven and Brahms represent the epitome of this, although I love works from all time periods and styles that are clever and brain-twisting. My ear and brain latches onto musical and structural ‘games’ in music all the time, and without them I feel lost.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I love travelling – every little sensory stimulus during my travels, down to the differing practices of an airport security queue or the particular scent of a hotel lobby, entices and inspires me in my work and life. I also love contemporary visual art – movement and structure in painting or installations provide close parallels to the lines and fabrics in music.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Whatever earworm or puzzle I’d like to tackle at the moment! I especially love uplifting pieces with harmonies and textures that seem to uplift each other constantly throughout the piece, such as the Bach-Rachmaninov Violin 3rd Partita arrangement I performed at the Ingesund Gala Concert.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I am not picky about acoustics or pianos – I like to perform wherever I can feel a connection and share energy with the audience.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences/listeners?

I feel that the idea that one needs to be educated in order to appreciate classical music should be entirely cancelled. Good music of whatever genre should create a physiological response that we, as living creatures, are born with and cannot suppress. If a glass of water can react to the soundwaves of Beethoven, imagine what goes on in our brains and bodies!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably playing Rach 3 with Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO as mentioned earlier; I only had one rehearsal the morning of the performance and it was a steep learning curve, but I felt that it ‘pulled’ me up to a level of professionalism that I had not experienced before.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I hate the idea of success. We should be happy to be sharing what we love – the music itself; measuring success in terms of a career is only a distraction and counterintuitive to the nobility and sanctity of music.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

The most important thing is to remember that the greatest source of inspiration is always in the score; there is no need to look anywhere else. If we feel lost in a piece of music, it is most likely because we are missing essential pieces of information that the composers offered to us. If we feel tired of music or doubt our love to music, look within the score for the beauty and greatness that these composers left us for centuries.

Aristo Sham is an Artist-in-Residence with Ingesund Piano Center in Arvika, Sweden, which offers young world-class pianists the support to cultivate international, sustainable and high-profile performing careers, led by Julia Mustonen-Dahlkvist. Aristo Sham performs Bach’s Suite from Partita for Violin Solo No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006 (arr. Rachmaninoff) as part of the Center’s inaugural NORDICSTAGE Gala Concerts online on Thursday 27 May, 3 & 10 June, streaming free from

Hailed by the Washington Post as a young artist with “boundless potential” who can “already hold his own with the best,” pianist Aristo Sham has dazzled audiences on five continents in countries ranging from Singapore and Argentina to Slovenia, Morocco, and throughout the United States.  

He recently performed as soloist with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edo de Waart, the English Chamber Orchestra under Raymond Leppard, the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, and the Minnesota Orchestra.

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(Image credit: Matt Dine)

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