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19 Jul 2021

Commemorating Adrian Tan

We are saddened to learn that Singaporean conductor Adrian Tan passed away at the age of 44 on 12 July 2021. He will be deeply missed by family, friends, musicians, composers, and students whom he has left an impact on over the years.

The late Adrian Tan was deeply devoted to Singapore’s music scene. He was known for being dedicated to improving the local music ecosystem by strongly advocating for Singaporean music and talents. Adrian led wind bands and orchestras at the community as well as professional levels. He had served as Music Director of AudioImage Wind Ensemble, Paradigm Ensemble, Sydney University Wind Orchestra, Saigon Philharmonic Orchestra, Singapore Wind Symphony, and Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra.

As one of the pioneering members of the Composers Society of Singapore (CSS), CSS commemorates Adrian Tan for his unwavering passion and contributions to the Society, as well as the local music scene, featuring messages from CSS members and Singaporean composers:

Adrian has been very supportive of local music and composers since we met in 2000 when he was still an officer with the Singapore Navy. At that time, I was teaching at FASS and together with Ng Tian Hui, Chia Han-Leon, the four of us would discuss about setting up a society for composers. Adrian was the most enthusiastic amongst us to draft the initial constitution for the society. Since then, the constitution has evolved to suit the needs of composers as more joined the society. Nonetheless, it was a tremendous step forward to bring a collective recognition of contemporary art music works by local composers and those who are based in Singapore, as well as the composers themselves.

In the earlier years, the four of us were involved in the hosting of the Singapore-Japan Composers exchange concerts in 2005 and 2006, the presentations we 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 ROS. After CSS was set up, Adrian became one of the CSS EXCO members and contributed to welcoming composers to be part of the society. While pursuing his own studies to be a conductor, he continued to help CSS in many ways, including to when we hosted the 31st ACL Conference and Festival in 2013 here in Singapore, which was a landmark event showcasing our local composers and musicians that resounded beyond Asia.

Those of us who email Adrian know that he uses avengers@xxxxx.net as his email ID. As someone who has strong convictions on the arts and new music, the ID says a lot about Adrian and his passion for life. May he find more adventures beyond.

– Dr. Ho Chee Kong

Adrian was one of the strongest champions of Singaporean composers’ works, organising many concerts dedicated to the advancement of Singaporean music. I quote him from an interview by Lianhe Zaobao we had together in 2016:

“If you ask me to perform a work by a lesser-known composer from a century ago, I’d say forget it; I’d rather reserve the time for a living Singaporean composer.” 

“If the composer is around, I can make a call to ask. We could always discuss if changes should be made to accommodate the orchestra or venue etc. Sometimes the composer is not too sure either, as if they are messengers for some kind of metaphysical mind.” 
(如果作曲家还在,那就打个电话问一问,两个人商议一下,考虑乐团、场地的因素作改变。有时候创作者自己也不清楚,他们像是某种形而上意念的传递者。 )

A keen thinker always interested to learn about music beyond the beaten path, he has also delved into Chinese, Malay and Indian music. My last conversation with him was on 14 June – he asked why the knowledge of 12 chromatic pitches in ancient China (evident from the 5-octave set of chromatic bells from 433 BC) did not lead to a chromatic musical language. If all his acquaintances shared their last random conversation with him, it would reveal a multi-faceted mind indeed.

Adrian also often talked about his vision for intercultural music and had several projects planned. He was like a sonata stopped abruptly amid the development section. However, the seeds he has sown have already borne fruit, and may the rest of us continue to expand on his thematic material!

– Wang Chenwei

I’ve known Adrian Tan for years and being the busy creatures we are, it took a pandemic before both of us finally had time to properly slow down and have tea. He loves good food as evidenced by his FB pictures documenting his “spoil market” culinary creations. But his love for good conversation was even greater. I once invited him over to my place for hotpot, starting at 5pm and the intense, non-stop conversations lasted till past 2am! Since that faithful meeting, we’ve been meeting up on an almost monthly basis to update and bounce ideas off each other for our joint, upcoming projects. I genuinely enjoyed the sharing and sparring of ideas with this knowledgeable man – his keen intellect was not for the inane or asinine. I’ll even go as far as to say that he was definitely one of the most forward-looking thinkers in the music scene.

Adrian’s demise leaves a huge vacuum in our music scene and the profound loss will be felt beyond the projects that we were in the midst of embarking on together. Adrian, you’ll be sorely missed by all of us!

– Albert Tay

I am shocked and deeply saddened to hear about the sudden passing of Adrian Tan, who was taken from us way too soon. Adrian is a dear friend, conductor, a genuine advocate for Singaporean music and composers, and a fellow foodie.

When Adrian approached me to commission a work for wind ensemble, I told him it just was not my style. He took me to Sin Lee Foods (it has since closed) and we had har cheong gai (shrimp paste fried chicken) waffle and salted egg burger. We hyper-dissected these dishes as foodies do, drew connections between our food and music, and the history, responsibility and cultures surrounding these. Despite not having met before, we chatted for hours. He encouraged me by saying that he did not just want a new wind ensemble work, but a work by me for wind ensemble, and suggested that I write an anti-band work if that was more my thing. In 2015, I wrote diver[city] and it remains a work I truly love, especially because it connects me with the directors and ensembles who value my voice.

Rest in peace dear friend and may your legacy continue in the artists, composers and works you have championed. You are dearly missed.

– Dr. Emily Koh


In 2012, you made a bold move to start the movement to support local composers, by having a yearly concert filled with compositions and arrangements done by local composers, and regularly performing local works in other concerts with the Singapore Wind Symphony. It was through this movement that I, along with many other composers, got the chance to realise our craft in performances.

Today, 9 years on, that movement has grown from strength to strength, and support for local composers has never been stronger. Even until this year, we were discussing new ways for composers to bring music to people, new ways to engage the common folk in music making.

I will never forget your unwavering belief in our music and our potential. You have been a true friend and ally, and I owe much of my musical career to you. May you rest in peace, Adrian Tan.

– Lee Jinjun

In the years where I worked closely with Adrian Tan at the Singapore Wind Symphony, I found that he had these ideas that were often larger than life, and many a Singaporean would have dismissed them, thinking, “Aiya sure cannot one la.” I myself questioned the viability of many of them.

He didn’t shy away from having these ideas and trying his best to implement them. Did he fail at some of them? Yes, he did. Did he also offend some people along the way? Yes, and watching that happen numerous times, as well as how he learnt from these experiences to eventually grow his network to enormous proportions and come up with even bigger and crazier ideas taught me the value of failure – it was not something to be feared, but to be embraced as part of our growth. I learnt that one should not live in a box and refrain from realising our dreams just because we fear what is more often than not NOT an unescapable abyss of failure. Even if we did somehow end up there, at least we can say without regret that we had tried our best.

One of these ideas that bore fruit was the SWS Young Composers Challenge (YCC) that we led over the course of three seasons from 2015 to 2017. He believed that performing the works of existing Singaporean composers was insufficient towards the goal of making local music a part of everyday life, and wanted to help nurture the next generation of local composers. This we did together with the Singapore Wind Symphony, and a good number of the youth that signed up for the YCC continue to write new music even today, even as the programme is now no more.

The list of ideas goes on and on, as many people who knew Adrian will attest to. The Singaporean music community will definitely feel the gaping hole left by his sudden departure, but if he could see us, he would surely know that the hole would not be of much concern, for he had already sowed the seeds of daring to pursue our dreams in many of the lives he had touched. This may be a long shot, but I truly believe that he left without regret, having lived his life to the fullest at every waking moment. May we all continue to be inspired to do the same with our own lives.

– Terrence Wong