SINGAPORE – Home-grown music conductor Adrian Tan died on Monday (July 12) night from cardiac arrest in his sleep. He was 44.
Tan, who became music director of the Singapore Wind Symphony and the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra in 2012, led wind bands and orchestras at both the community and professional levels.
He leaves behind his mother, whom he lived with.
His death came as a surprise to friends such as conductor Adrian Chiang, one of two friends with whom Tan co-founded the Conductors Collegium Asia earlier this year. It aims to provide professional training to aspiring conductors of ensembles in Singapore and Asia.
Their first training session was supposed to have been conducted over Zoom on the night that Tan died.
The class was meant to start at 7.30pm but Tan did not show up. “I thought he had fallen asleep and I still wanted to scold him for making everyone wait for him to start the Zoom,” says Chiang, 43, who had known Tan for more than 20 years.
“He was always full of energy and a very enjoyable person to talk to. He always seemed very healthy so I was wondering what happened.”
Tan graduated with honours in theatre studies from the National University of Singapore in 2000.
He went on to serve in the Republic of Singapore Navy as a naval officer for a decade before deciding to pursue a career in music.
He received the National Arts Council overseas scholarship in 2009 and completed a master’s in music studies (conducting) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where he was taught by Hungarian conductor Imre Pallo.
Besides his local appointments, he also served as music director of overseas orchestras such as the Saigon Philharmonic Orchestra in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, from 2014 to 2019.
Singapore Chinese Orchestra executive director Terence Ho says that the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra “transformed” under Tan’s “dynamic leadership”.
“Although it is a community orchestra, he really groomed and grew it in terms of bringing very fine local musicians together and creating innovative programmes,” adds Mr Ho, 52.
With Tan at the helm, the orchestra actively staged regular concerts, something seldom seen among local community orchestras, which commonly face resource constraints. Every concert would also feature a Singaporean composer.
“As a conductor, he respected and wanted to showcase the works of Singaporean composers,” says Mr Ho. Tan is also known for premiering the works of home-grown composers such as Americ Goh, Chen Zhangyi and Zechariah Goh Toh Chai.
Mr Ho adds that during his term as Nominated Member of Parliament for the arts, he also had frequent discussions with Tan on how to develop the arts sector in Singapore.
“He was active in terms of providing views on how the National Arts Council and the Government can help freelancers. He was very forward-looking, always talking about possibilities, collaboration and what more can be done for the music scene.”
His friends hope to continue the work he started. Chiang says of the Conductors Collegium Asia: “We will still push on with the project. If he knew, he would want us to push on as well.”