First published on 10 Dec 2012. Updated on 12 Dec 2012.
While the Singapore Symphony Orchestra often gets the lion’s share of professional attention and critical acclaim, there are also plenty of community-based groups providing quality entertainment for the masses – as well as the chance for non-professional musicians to get in on the action. One of the most established and longest-running community orchestras in town is the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra (BHSO), formed in 1986 as part of the arts programming at the Braddell Heights Community Club, with only a handful of music enthusiasts. In the years since, they’ve become a regular draw on their own as a full-fledged symphonic orchestra complete with strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion, and quarterly performances with a varied repertoire for all audiences – all largely thanks to maestro Yan Yin Wing, who joined as the orchestra’s first music director in 1989.
Now, 23 years later, Yan has stepped down from his post, ushering in a new era for BHSO – one led by new music director Adrian Tan. ‘After more than 20 years of helming the BHSO, it’s definitely the right time to pass the baton,’ says Yan, 64, looking back at his tenure. ‘I am proud to have led an orchestra that started with only a few members and have since grown to an 80-strong symphony orchestra as part of the Braddell Heights Community Club’s multi-faceted activities. The BHSO has successfully engaged the community to wholeheartedly support the orchestra’s objective of promoting classical music, and welcomes participation from anyone who has a passion to contribute to this objective.’
Tan, 35, was hand-selected by Yan to be his successor (Yan himself will take on the traditional title of Conductor Emeritus) after a guest conducting stint with the Vietnam Symphony Orchestra earlier this year. ‘I was duly impressed after watching Adrian’s video of him conducting the Vietnam Symphony Orchestra, and invited him to be guest conductor for a few concerts,’ recalls Yan. ‘I brought up the matter of him taking over as music director of the orchestra and he was very keen.’
A former theatre studies major at NUS, Tan’s music career blossomed relatively late in the game, shifting to conducting only after completing his music studies in Sydney. Still, his arrival on the scene marks a major change for the orchestra – all the more so as he hardly fits the stereotype of the sagely conductor-cum-mentor figure. ‘It’s true that up to say, 50 years ago, there wasn’t such a thing as a young conductor,’ he says. ‘Conductors were experienced orchestra musicians or had to move through the ranks in an opera house. The idea that you could study in a university and upon graduation become a conductor was ridiculous. I’ve conducted orchestras in which the musicians have played their instruments longer than I’ve been alive!’ Nevertheless, he’s undaunted: ‘Being young is a double-edged sword; what we lack in experience and wisdom, we try to make up with commitment, energy and passion. I believe that when orchestra musicians feel that you’re sincere and love the music, they come with you – they almost can’t help themselves!’
Given his varied training, Tan considers himself more of a multidisciplinary artist who is adept at several different styles. ‘I’m fortunate really because I was exposed to a great variety of genres and my tastes are really quite eclectic,’ he says. ‘I do want to make BHSO programmes more varied to reach a wider audience and I also believe it’s great for the musicians to explore different styles and genres.’ Still, Tan maintains that the ensemble won’t stray far from its traditional roots. ‘For the orchestral musician, the heart of what we do still remains in the symphonic repertoire,’ he says. ‘I have my ideas about how to move forward and Mr Yan has been very supportive so far.’
And of course, the younger newcomer continues to pay homage to his predecessor: ‘I feel really honoured that [Yan] thought I was good enough to lead the orchestra,’ says Tan, reflecting on the BHSO’s history. ‘He really built the BHSO from scratch. When he started, there were only a handful of musicians. Being a voluntary organization, you can imagine what a hard time he had building the orchestra up. My only concern is to make sure that I don’t let him down, and instead bring the orchestra up from strength to strength.’
BHSO performs at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall on 16 Dec.