3: Aristo Sham

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Aristo Sham, the celebrated pianist, is unusually mature, intelligent, and alert – qualities you might expect a classical music wunderkind to possess. So when the 12-year-old lets loose a mirthful giggle, you remember how rare it is to meet someone so accomplished and young. Aristo is, after all, a form six student (at Diocesan Boys’ School in Mong Kok) and only recently moved past a love of video games.

“I love to eat, but I don’t even know how to prepare instant noodles!” he says with a laugh, when describing what he likes outside music. Or consider his refreshing candour when asked to identify a favourite composition: “I like many things. No limits.”

‘No limits’ turns out to be an apt summary of Aristo’s staggering talent. How he manages, for example, to crisply strike broken octaves while producing subtle texture in works by Mozart and other legends still escapes us. His shining promise and preternaturally lucid interpretations on the piano make him a natural for our list.

The magic emerged at age three when Aristo’s parents noticed he easily mastered any piano pieces they gave him. An aural exam his mother conducted revealed an ear for perfect pitch. Aristo admits that the rare gift is “convenient” for music and says, “I like the big range of the piano’s sound. It’s full of everything. It may take the sound of rain or snowflakes. And it feels good.”

Eager to channel Aristo’s enthusiasm for piano, his parents entered him at age six in the Academy for Performing Arts. He won a scholarship and now studies privately under Eleanor Wong. Soon accolades piled high. In 2006, Aristo took top honours at international competitions in Germany and Japan and was named the Hong Kong Young Musician of the Year for piano by the Tom Lee Music Foundation. Last year he received a Young Artist Award from RTHK and was featured in the Education and Manpower Bureau’s Hall of Fame. And in July he won the 2008 Gina Bachauer International Junior Piano Competition in the US – the same prize won by a young Lang Lang.

Aside from playing piano at a world-class level, Aristo has composed works for piano, flute, clarinet, horn, and violin. “I used to play violin when I was younger,” he says without irony. He decided to ‘retire’ from violin at age nine to concentrate on piano.

But don’t expect the young impresario to now commit to a career in music; on that possibility, Aristo simply offers a coy grin and a shrug. His parents support their son’s wait-and-see stance and are determined to let him remain a boy. “It’s most important that he have as normal a life as possible,” his mother, Jessica Sham, says.

Regardless of what course his passion for piano takes, Aristo appears well on his way to fulfilling the promise of his name, which in Greek means ‘the best’. In the meantime, we’re thrilled he’s on the music scene.

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