TRIBUTES TO ADRIAN TAN (1977-2021)
The Singapore musical community was shocked and saddened by the sudden and unexpected passing of Adrian Tan on 12 July 2021, at a tragically young age of 44. He was the Music Director of the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra (BHSO), Singapore’s only community orchestra, and is widely considered the “conductor of the people”.
Through his tireless hard work and missionary zeal, thousands got to enjoy and appreciate classical music at the grassroots level. His concerts involved amateur musicians, included instrumental players and singers, young and upcoming soloists, and he programmed popular works which would have been many people’s first exposure to classical music. Among these were concerts of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, Handel’s Messiah and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, which featured hundreds of singers who would have otherwise never encountered these masterpieces.
Many of these concerts were free events, held in venues as large and prestigious as Esplanade Concert Hall, and were often filled to the rafters. He was a champion of Singaporean composers, an often neglected group of artists, and premiered many local works with the BHSO and Singapore Wind Symphony.
He was well-loved by the many musicians, composers and colleagues who had worked with him, and below is a sample of tributes so generously offered by them. He will be sadly missed but fondly remembered.
|Adrian & Albert Tiu taking bows|
after the Brahms and Liszt concertos.
ALBERT TIU, Concert pianist
The music scene in Singapore just lost a most vibrant participant and a tireless advocate in Adrian Tan, who reached out to so many in his abruptly ended lifetime. Given his insatiable curiosity and affable character, he should have led a long life of fulfilling all the projects on his wish list. Adrian always had this bright spark and smile that made interacting with him so enjoyable.
We worked together on four piano concertos altogether, because he had the eager curiosity of a student to explore repertoire which was new to him. We did the Rachmaninov Second Concerto in 2014, the Brahms First in 2016 (which was later conducted by Apo Hsu), and then the Liszt and Brahms Second Concertos in 2019. In that last concert, he was most intrigued by my proposal to put together two composers who were at opposite ends of an artistic Cold War in the late 19th century. I am now working on a solo arrangement of the slow movement of the Brahms Second as a tribute to Adrian’s legacy. May he rest in peace.
Video of Albert Tiu's arrangement of the slow movement from Brahms' Second Piano Concerto can be viewed here:
|Adrian Tan conducted the World Premiere|
of Bernard Tan's Cello Concerto in 2014.
BERNARD TAN, Composer &
Singapore Symphony Orchestra Founding Director
It is an irony that Adrian Tan never fully knew how highly the Singapore musical community valued and appreciated his multi-faceted contributions to the cause of music here. Perhaps less well-known to the public at large than some of his conducting contemporaries, Adrian was a driver of many musical projects in Singapore. He made significant contributions to both orchestral and band music, and was Music Director of the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra (BHSO) and Singapore Wind Symphony.
In particular, he took the BHSO well beyond its traditional role as a community orchestra, energising it to a highly commendable standard and promoting his musical objectives through its concerts. One of these objectives was his tireless championing of Singaporean music and composers, who will certainly miss his unstinting support for their cause.
I was most fortunate to have him agree to the BHSO performing the premiere of my ‘Cello Concerto in 2014. Adrian and the BHSO magnificently accompanied Noella Yan’s impassioned and riveting performance. I could not have asked for a better premiere!
Adrian was a generous and serious collaborator, as many who have worked with him can confirm. His musical energy knew no bounds, moving effortlessly across the boundaries of classical, jazz, ethnic and pop music. He infused all he did with a broad-minded and knowledgeable eclecticism which respected all musical genres.
Adrian will be very much missed and could have contributed so much more to Singapore music. But what he already achieved will certainly have a lasting impact, and will serve as an inspiration for others who will take up his many worthy musical causes. We need more like him to selflessly move our musical scene to greater heights.
Rest in peace Adrian, and thank you for doing so much for Singapore music in your all too brief time with us!
|A meal in Saigon, Adrian Tan with cellist Noella Yan|
and violinist Yew Shan, after a performance of
Brahms' Double Concerto in 2007.
NOELLA YAN, Cellist based in Melbourne
I was on a walk with my two-month-old baby when I received the message Tuesday morning. No, I thought. This can’t be. How could this be the same Adrian? He's far too young to be gone.
Adrian and I first met in 2007 when he invited me to perform with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra in Hanoi. Over our first meal, I noticed how much Adrian enjoyed talking. A lot. In the early days of our friendship, I remember feeling exhausted and sometimes annoyed keeping up with these wild conversations and crazy ideas of his. Adrian always had a way of looking at life. He was calm when necessary and full of energy at other times. He was bright, ambitious, authentic and fiercely determined. He was unapologetically himself, honest and blunt. He was also a visionary; he dreamed big, worked hard and pursued these dreams with immense boldness. He could be initially misread as obnoxious, but once you got to know Adrian personally, you could see how big and sincere his heart was.
Around 2011, my father Yan Yin Wing, who helmed Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra, was planning to step down, which meant looking for a successor. My father’s vision for BHSO had always been ‘Music for the community by the community.’ I remember vaguely connecting the two of them, and the rest was history. Under Adrian's leadership, BHSO grew to new heights. He knew how to connect people and more importantly, he connected humanity through music. He took the elitism out of classical concerts and made it accessible to the masses. The numerous Esplanade projects he led were a clear reflection of this. I distinctly remember being moved to tears singing in one concert and feeling immense gratitude that I could share in that incredible moment. He always looked to grow, to better himself as a person and a professional. He fought incredibly hard for the local music scene and devoted himself to building others up and finding opportunities to empower others. I was one of them.
|Rehearsing Bernard Tan's Cello Concerto|
with the BHSO
Adrian was pivotal in my return to the stage after a short hiatus spent caring for my boys. I had settled into being a mother and gotten rather blasé about playing. I distinctly remember his constant nudging during the few years leading up to 2014, which somewhat fell on my deaf ears. He then decided to nudge harder. Late 2013, Professor Bernard Tan and I received an email from him, out of the blue. In the e-mail, he asked Prof. Tan when this new cello concerto would be composed, to which the reply was, ‘By December.’ And just like that, he had succeeded in getting me to practise again! I will not forget how he had put me on the spot. April 2014 was the world premiere of Bernard Tan’s Cello Concerto and I will always remember how special it was to share the stage with a dear friend once again. I have not looked back since and for this , I have him to thank. His beautiful spirit and spark will live on.
|Adrian with Noella's two sons in Melbourne.|
As they say, ‘People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.’ Adrian had a larger-than-life personality and we never imagined how our time with him would be this brief, but it has no doubt impacted us all, reached us all. May his life be a celebration of who he was and a sharing of our happy memories of him. Adrian, may you rest in the peace and quiet delight of Bach's last words, "Don't cry for me, for I go where music is born." Go well, my friend.
A review of Noella and Adrian’s performance of the Bernard Tan Cello Concerto with BHSO can be found here: pianomania: COMING HOME / Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra / Review (pianofortephilia.blogspot.com)
ROBERT CASTEELS, Composer & Conductor
Generous, innovative and confident is how I would define Adrian’s Tan’s complex personality.
In 1999 at National University of Singapore Winds which I conducted, Adrian played the saxophone, contributed as an executive committee member and later became my assistant. He was one who burst with energy, asked multiple practical and philosophical questions. Years later, he embraced the reality of conducting and created two ensembles. His musical intentions were confident. I merely advised him to acquire a conducting technique if he wanted to progress. He thus abandoned the security of a full time navy career to study conducting in Sydney.
A focused, driven and confident Adrian returned and became the artistic leader of three estabished Singaporean orchestras. Adrian presented well. He spoke well. He knew how to connect with the audience. His innovative programming really supported our local composers. Adrian was generous with his time and ideas. He created a new concert-ticketing agency and a union to represent and support Singaporean musicians. Adrian’s energy was infectious. He was a people connector. Adrian’s geographic area of activities expanded to the whole region.
Adrian, the number of musicians who attended your wake attests to the mark you leave in the music community. Adrian, you will be missed. Adrian, rest in peace in the eternal joy of music.
|After a performance of Sibelius' Violin Concerto|
with Chan Yoong Han and BHSO.
CHAN YOONG HAN, Concert violinist &
Fixed Chair, Singapore Symphony Orchestra
It’s been a very sad week indeed for all of us, but and very touching to see all the tributes made to Adrian. This is a true testament to how much he has impacted the lives of so many in our musical community.
Maybe pictures speak louder than words in the following photos contributed by Yoong Han:
A photoshoot at the “sand dunes” of Lorong Halus, part of the marketing of Fiddlers’ Feud, featuring Yoong Han and Jin Li in a duo recital. That 2007 concert was presented by the Chamber Music Society of Singapore, set up by Adrian and modelled after the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Centre.
A group photo of the Bridges Collective, a chamber group based in Melbourne, which presented two concerts in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, featuring works of John Sharpley (seated far left), Bernard Tan, Mohamad Rasull and several Australian composers.
JOHN SHARPLEY, Composer
Adrian Tan, a friend and colleague remembered
Adrian Tan was a visionary! His tireless dedication to the development and flourishing of new music in Singapore was extraordinary, exemplary and inspiring. I would count him as one of the most engaging and informed musicians that I have had the pleasure to know. He was also a good friend. Adrian saw possibility where most would see nothing or even impossibility. His projects were often daring, ambitious and successful. As both a conductor and educator, Adrian possessed the ability to bring out the best in others. His musical approach was always towards simplicity, creativity, clarity, confidence and intelligence.
Our first major collaboration was a commission by Adrian and the Singapore Wind Symphony to compose a work based on the Malay folk song, Geylang Sipaku Geylang. It premiered in 2013 at Esplanade Concert Hall. Another collaboration was a commission from Bridges Collective, a music ensemble based in Melbourne, with Adrian conducting. Singapore Dreams, was premiered at Federation Square in Melbourne and later toured in Singapore and Malaysia. The latest collaboration was with Adrian conducting the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra in the premiere of my oratorio, A Moment of Rest Upon the Wind, based on Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet. The performance took place at SOTA Concert Hall. We also served together in various committees, panels and seminars over the past decade. Even up to his untimely demise, Adrian and I were formulating some new projects together. Each collaboration with Adrian was joyful, meaningful and enriching. His enthusiasm and integrity never waned.
The following quote is from the last lines of The Prophet which are also near the end of my oratorio. During the collaborative process, Adrian and I had a number of impassioned philosophical discussions about the profoundly spiritual texts. In this particular moment of Gibran’s narrative, Almustafa, a man of great wisdom and vision, is dying. He speaks his last words: “People of Orphelese, the wind bids me leave you. Less hasty am I than the wind, yet I must go. We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered.”
Adrian Tan’s meteoric fire burned brightly albeit too briefly. May he long be remembered and the seeds of such a remarkable tenacious plant be scattered!
AZARIAH TAN, Concert pianist
Adrian was a wonderful human being and artist, and I had the privilege of working with him in a soulful Rachmaninoff 2nd Piano Concerto in a 2010 concert. I still vividly remember the moments we had at rehearsals, eating together in the coffee shop, or walking down the streets. The conversations we had revealed a deep passion and personal interest he had in fellow artists. And I will never forget that experience of a lifetime performing the concerto with him. He was inspiring both on and off stage, but more importantly, he was a down-to-earth and humane person. Although the world has lost a wonderful soul, his legacy will continue to live in the the hearts of those whose lives he touched.
HO CHEE KONG, Composer &
Vice-Dean of Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music
Adrian had been very supportive of local music and composers since we first met in 2000, while he was still an officer in the Republic of Singapore Navy. At that time, I was teaching at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (National University of Singapore), and together with fellow music-lovers Ng Tian Hui and Chia Han-Leon, we discussed about setting up a local society for composers. He was the most enthusiastic amongst us to draft the initial constitution for the society, which later evolved to suit the needs of composers as more joined the society. It was a tremendous step forward to bring a collective recognition of contemporary art music works by local composers and those based in Singapore.
In the earlier years, four of us were involved in hosting the Singapore-Japan Composers exchange concerts in 2005 and 2006, presentations made to the Asian Composers League (ACL) since 2003 to showcase works and developments in the contemporary art music scene in Singapore, and the eventual establishment of the Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) in 2007, that was registered with Registry of Societies. Adrian became a CSS executive committee member and contributed to welcoming composers to be part of the society.
While pursuing his conducting studies, he continued to help CSS in many ways, including when we hosted the 31st ACL Conference and Festival in Singapore (2013), which was a landmark event showcasing local composers and musicians that resounded beyond Asia. Those of us who e-mailed Adrian know he used avnger as his email id. That id says a lot about Adrian the person, his strong convictions and passion for life. May he find more adventures beyond.
|Now a familiar pose: Adrian Tan addressing the |
audience at a Braddell Heights Symphony concert.
And finally, an entry by yours truly:
My first encounter with Adrian, while writing as a music reviewer for The Straits Times, was not so positive. In a 2005 concert when he conducted his New Festival Orchestra in Rachmaninov’s Second and Third Piano Concertos, I had written of a young conductor, “whose bio suggests he has had more theatre than experience, the ensemble bared coped...” and an Intermezzo which was, “ponderous and ragged, where a better orchestra and less pedantic conductor would have made a difference.” Ouch.
Little had I known that was Adrian’s conducting debut. Years later, I apologised for my scathing words, and his response was one of utter humility. “You were right!” he said. His totally positive and “can do” attitude made me eat my words. He quit his navy career, pursued formal conducting studies and became one of Singapore’s most active and popular conductors.
His work with the Braddell Heights Symphony and proselytising of classical music in general has made a real difference. In his concerts, he often served as master of ceremony, explaining each work performed to the audience as he would a friend, using plain and colloquial English without going into technical jargon, nor ever dumbing down. His approach was always fuss-free, fresh and friendly, making the experience of classical music as easy as possible.
His unwavering support of young musical talents, local composers and compositions have greatly encouraged many artists that their efforts were really worth the while. Singapore’s musical scene has indeed become better all round. He will be missed, but the shining example of his love and passion for music will live on.