In conversation with Michael Kim-Sheng

Graham Sommer Competition Finalist Michael Kim-Sheng shares his thoughts on how he got into composition, what he loves about the process, and a how Murray Perahia and a Mozart piano concerto piqued his musical ear.

Earliest musical memory?   

Listening to Murray Perahia play a Mozart piano concerto in the car. There was a phrase that I really liked. He must have improvised a bit with it, because when my sister and my mom played it for me on the piano, it just wasn’t the same. I told them that I didn’t like it anymore.  

What are the themes that inspire you most in your music? 

I am often inspired by nature and I try to tell a story. But when I’m writing, I’m not thinking of anything else but the music. I used to write a lot of music about my cats. I love my cats. I just can’t have them around when I compose now, for obvious cat reasons. 

Is there a moment that brought you to now, being a composer — one that changed your course or confirmed it?  

I stumbled into composition. I did not get into music school as a guitarist. So I tried again as a composer. I think trying as a music producer would’ve made more sense for me at the time, but music composition worked out quite well!  

What are the 5 words you would use to describe your compositional style? 


If you had a mantra/philosophy/phrase for where you are right now, what would it be? 

Appreciation for what I have and keep an open mind.

What do you find the most rewarding about composing? What’s the toughest?  

The most rewarding and toughest parts are in the process. Usually, I am overly excited, frantic, deleting more than I write, but there are times when I am quietly focused and building the music. The musical decisions just fall into place and it takes a life of its own. These moments are fleeting but I really enjoy them. Also, I love working with musicians. 

What would be excited to see or hear more of in the field of composition?  

I like what I am seeing. It is so diverse.  

What would you like the audience to walk away with after hearing your piece in the finals?  

I want the audience to feel like they experienced something. After listening, they feel like they have been somewhere else. 

Any advice to future composers out there?  

Don’t be too hard on yourself, don’t give up, and write the music that makes you happy. 

What would winning the Graham Sommer Competition enable you to do?  

So many things. Music videos, begin my next project, organize concerts for my album! The possibilities are endless. Thank you for this opportunity.

Sneak a preview of Michael's entry in the GSC finals, played by the Graham Sommer Trio:

Audio icon Michael Kim-Sheng | Burning in Clarity

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