As the audience steadily pours back into the Sunnyvale Theatre after intermission, a hush falls. For several minutes, violinist Eric Sun is on the stage, alone, playing an intensive solo from the opening credits of the film version of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
The piece is taxing, but Sun does not show any signs of weariness. After the final note is played and the solo ends, the full audience erupts into a standing ovation for him and he bows.
Few in the audience last Friday knew that Sun has been given four months to live. The 33-year-old says he was diagnosed with glioblastoma in November last year and has “too many tumors to count” in his head and spine.
These performances, he says, are how he wants to spend the few weeks he has left.
“The violin has been a source of strength for me,” the Mountain View resident said an hour before the curtain rose on Sept. 22.
Sun is in the middle of a four-week production of “Fiddler on the Roof” with the Sunnyvale Community Players. He is the sitting first chair violinist and shares the titular fiddler role with another violinist. Sun says he doesn’t have the energy some days to play the role, so Griff Derryberry takes over.
“My symptoms are up and down,” he said last Friday. “Yesterday, I was really not feeling well in the morning. I’ve never been a soloist before and I’ve never sat first chair.”
Sun says this experience with the “Fiddler” production checks many items off his to-do list before he passes.
Sun says he’s grateful to the cast, crew and music director Kevin Surace for being willing to take a chance on him since his doctor couldn’t guarantee he would be healthy enough to make it through the musical’s run, which ends Oct. 8.
Sun, who will turn 34 late next month, says he’s officially on leave from his job as an engineering manager at Facebook, though he still occasionally checks in at work as a “person of last resort” to address issues no one else knows how to fix.
Aside from playing the violin he is spending time writing essays, particularly one about the power of communication and how teamwork can bring people together. He says he’s amazed that hundreds of people have to come to the shows from all walks of life to hear his music.
“I like to use the violin as a tool to inspire, to bring people together these days. It’s not even about the music. I realize I can use this thing to inspire people and to bring people together, to introduce people who have never met before,” he says.
The packed houses for “Fiddler on the Roof” in a community theater are a contrast to a Carnegie Hall solo performance Sun fondly recalls. He was there to perform with a group in July 2005, but before rehearsals, he played a violin concerto by Tchaikovskyto on stage alone to only a janitor working in the famed concert venue.
“He got a free recital,” Sun says.
Sun has been playing the violin since he was 4 years old. In addition to Carnegie Hall, he has played at the Sydney Opera House.
He says he was convinced to audition for “Fiddler” by his wife Karen, who is also a violinist in the show. Sun says his wife learned about the show from a friend and remembered watching the film version and recalling a violin solo. Without telling him, she asked Surace if he could audition for a part.
This is the first Sunnyvale Community Players production for the couple, which boasts a 25-piece orchestra.
Surace says the couple quickly became a member of the production group’s family.
“He is a kind, quiet, reserved gentleman, and he in turn cannot wait to play each night and see all his friends at the theater,” Surace says.
Surace adds that Sun’s outlook has rubbed off on the cast and crew.
“Don’t take the time you have for granted, take opportunities to do great things. I just want to inspire people to use their time well,” Sun says.
About the show
“Fiddler on the Roof” is directed by Matt Welch and Steve Shapiro. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. There will be one evening show this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. The final show is Oct. 8.
All performances will take place in the Sunnyvale Theater at the Sunnyvale Community Center, 550 E. Remington Drive. Tickets are priced at $16, $27, and $33. Tickets are available at the theater box office and online at sunnyvaleplayers.org. Call 408-733-6611.
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