Eric Cheng

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Dawn Upshaw and Osvaldo Golijov's Ayre, Berkeley

Dawn left me two tickets to see her perform tonight Osvaldo Golijov's Ayre at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, and Cindy Mong and I met up with Stephen Prutsman to see the show. We sat in the comps section with other guests of the band, and Stevie made a big production about seeing me there (even though I had just seen him in the lobby a few minutes prior). "Dr. Cheng! It's been a long time! We haven't seen each other since that thing in, where was it, Stockholm?"

People stared at us.

Anyway, the show started out with a couple of avant-garde pieces that I thought were interesting for their sound, but not so interesting musically. One was George Crumb's Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale), and after hearing it, I can only conclude that Crumb had never heard a whale sing when he wrote the piece. I couldn't really deal with all of the yelling and humming through the (amplified) flute... and close to the end of the piece, I felt a visceral sense of relief when the piano started playing something resembling a melodic riff. And, like, what's the deal with the face masks?

Ayre was the big hit of the evening, and Dawn's singing was intense, amazing, and inspiring. I was explaining to Steve before the show that I feel like his music comes completely from within him, and that he channels it from some unknown source of musical energy, and I get a similar feeling from Dawn. She emotes so naturally when she sings, and there is not a clear distinction between her visual performance and the music that comes out of her.

I feel the same thing with Geoff's playing. Geoff sometimes gets mail from Stanford white hairs who complain that he moves around too much when he's playing. They like the sounds, but they don't like the scene in front of them.

I remember Livia getting upset about that. "What, like they're not related?"

That's the thing about the musicians I like. Their music is a delicate balance between unbridled emotion and fine control, and they somehow manage to communicate both to the audience.

Anyway, back to Ayre. One of my favorite moments of the piece is the first time Mchael Ward-Bergeman stands up and unleashes his hyper-accordion, which I like to call the RED DRAGON because when he stands up and starts shaking the house down, I always envision a red dragon rearing up and taking in a huge breath of air in anticipation of blasting the room with fire (the folds of the accordion are a deep red color).

After the show, Dawn, Steve, Cindy and I went to a little fast-food Thai place up the street for bite to eat (where Dawn was asked for her autograph by a nice graduate student in composition) before walking back to her hotel. When we arrived at the hotel, we bumped into a bunch of the players, who had decided that they needed donuts (an obvious craving for post-reception munchies). Cindy and I accompanied them down to the donut place, which apparently is really well known. Michael was so excited that he asked me to reach over and touch his donut, which was still pleasingly warm. He then started talking about exfoliating and nipple chafing. Then, I went home. The end.

michael was really excited to eat donuts

It was really a treat to get out of the house.

(special thanks to Geoff for coordinating with Dawn for tickets)