Student Performs with Dream Theater in Extraordinary Concert
Berklee student Eren Başbuğ stepped in front of an orchestra seated before him at the House of Blues. Behind them, progressive metal giants Dream Theater stood on stage with instruments at the ready. Başbuğ looked down at his iPad, then faced the musicians and raised his baton to a moment he's envisioned for five years.
As the Berklee Orchestra, Berklee Concert Choir, and Dream Theater brought to life the soaring opening of “Illumination Theory,” Başbuğ broke out in a smile. This was the first time he had performed with the band—and the only time he would before they appeared before thousands of people the next night at the Boston Opera House.
“Tomorrow it’s happening and it’s probably one of the peak moments of my life. But I cannot truly appreciate it right now. I will probably appreciate it 20 years later. It’s still early in my life to have such a big, big show, to understand the actual gravity of it. So it’s like a dream,” he said.
Başbuğ, 22, started his journey toward this day back when he was teen in Ankara, Turkey. A fan of the Berklee-born, Grammy-nominated group Dream Theater, Başbuğ began composing orchestral accompaniments to their songs. He assembled some musician friends, made videos of them playing the arrangements, and then posted the clips on YouTube in hopes of getting the band’s attention.
Meanwhile, word of the videos kept making its way to Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess. “By the seventh or eighth person who told me (about the videos), I went, ‘ok, I gotta check this out.’ So I went online and saw this kind of handsome fellow conducting an orchestra, and I saw he was doing his own arrangements so I called him up. I said, ‘Wow, that’s really some amazing stuff.’”
Rudess first asked Başbuğ to arrange some compositions for a few of his solo projects. “And slowly but surely I was introducing him to (Dream Theater guitarist) John (Petrucci) and the Dream Theater world, and people in our circle were realizing this is an incredibly gifted young man.”
Başbuğ was introduced to Berklee during a trip to New York to meet the band. Rudess’s wife took him up to Boston and urged him to think about coming to the college. He later auditioned and was accepted on a full scholarship. While pursuing a dual major in electronic production and design and film scoring, Başbuğ has since written and recorded arrangements for Dream Theater’s album Live at Luna Park as well as its eponymous 12th album, released in September.
Though Rudess didn’t attend Berklee, the band’s relationship with the college is close and longstanding. Its three founding members—Petrucci, bassist John Myung, and drummer Mike Portnoy—formed Dream Theater while students at Berklee in 1985.
Being at Berklee was a watershed experience for them. “All of a sudden we found ourselves in an environment where everybody was kind of like us. We really felt like we belonged,” Petrucci said. “That completely springboarded our career as professional musicians. We didn’t know it then, we were so young, but that was the beginning. And I’m still friends with a lot of the people I went there with. It was amazing. It really was.” Portnoy left the band in 2010 and was replaced by Mike Mangini, who had taught drums at Berklee for a decade.
Coming back to Boston, and working with Berklee students, feels like coming full circle, Petrucci said. “To reunite and do this with the school, it’s really, really exciting for us.” Berklee feels like family, especially now that his son will be attending in the fall, he said.
After the orchestra performed the closing chords of “Illumination Theory,” one of five songs they would perform the following night, Başbuğ rested his baton and looked up at the band. They were clapping for him.
“These guys are so amazing,” Petrucci said during a break in the rehearsal. “Eren, you’re doing a fantastic job... Everybody is fully prepared. We just ran through this stuff for the first time and it sounded killer. These guys are super, super talented. So it’s a testament to the school and everything they have to offer.”