Classical music’s Adrian Tan is one of those over-achieving start-ups you’d love to hate, but end up giving a heartfelt standing ovation instead. Aged 36 and in a profession that typecasts its protagonists as sagely and experienced, Tan is music director of the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra, the Singapore Wind Symphony, and the Saigon Philharmonic Orchestra and Ho Chi Minh Conservatory of Music Orchestra in Vietnam.
What’s makes his credentials even more remarkable is that up until he received a National Arts Council scholarship to pursue his Masters in Music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music four years ago, Tan had no formal classical music education apart from playing the saxophone in his secondary school band.
Although a National University of Singapore Theatre Studies degree holder, Tan, in fact, served as an officer of the Republic of Singapore Navy for more than a decade before finally calling it a day and giving in to his love for music. Music, after all, “has a way of reaching deep inside you, grabbing hold of your soul and bypassing your brain, which is an organ we use far too often and unnecessarily in modern life”, he explains. Even so, making a mid-career change wasn’t easy, he admits. “That’s why I try to share my story with others who feel they have a calling in life, but may be afraid to chase their dreams.”
Increasingly known for premiering the work of Singaporean composers — such as Americ Goh, Chen Zhangyi, Zechariah Goh, Ho Chee Kong, Kelly Tang and Phoon Yew Tien — Tan has also made it his own personal mission to champion local talent. “They express what I care about and reflect on issues and scenes that I can empathise with and understand. And if we are going to make our contribution to the world, it is by sharing our unique perspective, not merely by borrowing from other cultures.”