Music was always on his mind

Music was always on his mind
Iskandar Ismail's final projects included the ChildAid concert and the Esplanade's New Year countdown show.

Up until his last days, Singapore music maestro Iskandar Mirza Ismail was still working on his music.

The Cultural Medallion winner died at his condominium in Tanjong Rhu yesterday at 3.10am in the presence of his wife, son and daughter, after battling lung and brain cancer in the past four years. He was 58.

According to his wife Ernawaty Sorianto, 60, his final projects included the fund-raising ChildAid concert, where he was the artistic director, and the Esplanade's New Year countdown show, where he was the producer.

She said: "His health deteriorated in the past one year and he was always in and out of hospital, but he was very firm about finishing his music projects. He was very passionate about music."

During his illness, musicians and collaborators would go to his home to work with him, including his younger brother, musician and music director Indra Shahrir Ismail.

In April, Iskandar travelled to Xiamen, China, to work with the Xiamen University orchestra and choir for a fund-raising concert held in Singapore for the Singapore Buddhist Free Clinic. Though physically weak and needing a wheelchair, he would communicate with them with the help of his 27-year-old daughter Valerie, a media professional. His son Emil, 28, is a businessman.

The family also travelled to South Korea for a holiday the following month, after which he joked with friends that the country had "many beautiful girls".

The eldest of five children born to pioneering Malay singer Nona Asiah and the late singing and music veteran Ismail Kassim, Iskandar was a child prodigy mentored by Majulah Singapura composer Zubir Said.

He later studied at and graduated from acclaimed music school Berklee College of Music in the United States, where he was awarded the John Lewis Jazz Masters Award for excellence in jazz music.

Since his professional debut in Singapore in the 1970s, he has performed in nightclubs, taught music, and also composed and arranged music for major events that included multiple National Day Parades, Chingay and the Youth Olympic Games.

He also worked on internationally staged musicals including Snow. Wolf.Lake and Chang & Eng, and arranged music for Mandarin pop stars such as Jacky Cheung, Sally Yeh and Aaron Kwok.

Iskandar, who, according to his wife, was not a smoker or drinker, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010, which later spread to the brain.

He went through several treatments, including radiosurgery and chemotherapy.

Iskandar was last admitted to Mount Elizabeth Hospital early last month and discharged on the 25th.

Although he did not talk much during his last days, his mother Nona Asiah said he would acknowledge family and friends who came to visit him.

She said: "His younger brother, Talib, would even joke with him and pretend to be someone else, but he would reply 'Foolish, I know you're Talib'."

Said Iskandar's wife: "He passed on peacefully."

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