Vijay Gupta

October 03, 2019
The Great Hall

Reflection |  Photos

Director of Street Symphony and advocate for artistic voices at the center of social justice.

Vijay Gupta is a violinist and passionate advocate for artistic voices at the center of social justice. Gupta joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2007 at age 19, after having completed an undergraduate degree in biology from Marist College and a Master’s degree in violin performance from the Yale School of Music. As a TED Senior Fellow, Gupta founded and began directing Street Symphony, a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging underserved communities experiencing homelessness and incarceration in Los Angeles through musical performance and dialogue. Gupta has also been nominated and named one of six national Citizen Artist Fellows by the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Alex Ross of The New Yorker named him “one of the most radical thinkers in the unradical world of American classical music,” and “a visionary violinist.”



This year’s Grace A. Tanner Center Lecture for Human Values was given by violinist and advocate for social justice, Vijay Gupta, on October 3rd, 2019, and titled, “Music, Community, and the End of Apathy.” Gupta is the founder of Street Symphony, a non-profit organization that engages communities dealing with the issues of homelessness and incarceration through music and the arts, and commented on his experiences with the organization, as well as speaking out about how the arts can lead the way to social change.

Gupta began his lecture by playing a piece on the violin, after commenting on how classical musicians typically “operate behind the fourth wall” and don’t engage the audience directly, but then reminded the audience that his talk was one about human contact, and that the greatest gift that could be given is someone’s attention. His expressive playing captivated the whole audience as they watched and listened in awe.

He then talked about why he loved the piece so much, as it was one of the first pieces he played that allowed him to explore his culture’s music, noting on the violent and sweet aspects of the music he played. Gupta’s passionate playing and love for music and people led the conversation into taking that passion and using it to make a difference in people’s lives, quoting the words of the Persian poet, Hafiz, and telling a story about his experience with a little girl diagnosed with terminal cancer inspired her to conduct, to happily dance to the music he and his teacher played. Musicians must put themselves at the audience’s mercy, and learn what it means to imagine that in a realm where people connect with each other.

“We live in a world in pain,” were Vijay’s next words. He went on to explain about how common it is in today’s society for people to be obsessed with achievements, titles, and popularity and success on social media. “What does it mean to be terrified by the question of how it is we can be most authentic to ourselves?’”, he asks the audience. Gupta then shares the stories of struggling former inmates and those who are homeless, and how Street Symphony reaches out to those in impoverished communities and the infamous Skid Row in Los Angeles every day.

Vijay concluded his lecture with the endearing message of bringing people together and creating social change by bringing the audience together to sing together, by connecting everyone through the power of music.

By Emily Sexton