Max Tan: Science scholar with a passion for music

Steve Dunwell

Age: 20 – he turns 21 on Monday

Hometown: East Lyme, Conn.

Think of: Yo-Yo Ma was also a brilliant young string player and went to Harvard. But what does he know about developmental biology?


What caught our eye: Tan was chosen for the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists, which began this past week in Austin, Texas.

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Lightbulb moment: “I really wanted to do music when I was 3 or 4, but I started out as a pianist, and I switched to violin when I was age 9. But I don’t think I felt super-passionate about music until maybe my teenage years. So I’m not quite sure when the lightbulb exactly went on.”

Biggest thrill: “When I was first applying to the Menuhin Competition, never in my wildest dreams would I ever think that I would get past the first application round. I feel extremely lucky and fortunate that I was selected to compete.”

Biggest surprise: “How I’ve been able to stick with music for so long. There are many instances where I feel the academic pressure and musical pressure is really, really tough, but I am always able to find solace in one or the other, or sometimes both.”

Inspired by: Itzhak Perlman. “He has been such an amazing mentor, not just as a musician but as a person. He is one of the most passionate musicians, and he is one of the warmest people I have ever met.”


For good luck before a performance: “I always like to take a good shower and nap a little. I don’t do this as much now, but when I was younger, I would always run around the building just to sort of get rid of the first onset of adrenaline and stage nerves.”

What people should know: As a third-year student at Harvard University, he studies human developmental and regenerative biology, “probably one of the more far-out majors I could get, away from music.”

Aspiration: He could make a career in medicine or research — but music is still his first choice.

Coming soon: He will make his Symphony Hall debut on March 7, performing the Barber Violin Concerto with the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.

Joel Brown can be reached at