Vijay Gupta

Violinist. Speaker. Advocate.

Blog
May 24, 2020

Solitude/Isolation

There are many ways to be alone. 

Gupta…is one of the most radical thinkers in the unradical world of American classical music. With Street Symphony, he has created a formidable new model for how musical institutions should engage with the world around them. – Alex Ross, The New Yorker

Handel's 'Messiah,' on Skid Row

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Vijay Gupta is represented as a speaker by the Lavin Agency.

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Vijay Gupta believes that the work of the artist and citizen is one:

To make a daily practice of the connected, creative, and courageous world we long to live in Hailed by The New Yorker as “a visionary violinist…one of the most radical thinkers in the unradical world of American classical music” Vijay is an esteemed musician, speaker and thought leader, serving to create spaces of belonging, healing and wholeness through music.

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So beautiful to relive this memory of collaborating with Kronos Quartet and Los Angeles Poverty Department in this "Voices of Hope" program for Carnegie Hall.
youtu.be/88LR9J8OJIQ?t=115
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Vijay Gupta - Violinist

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A short clip of @reenaesmailcomposer "Darshan", for solo violin. This work is based on the Hindustani raga "Charukeshi", which is evokes both the minor and major sonorities.
Darshan is the Hindi and Sanskrit word for "seeing".
Recorded in Dec 2019 at All Saints Church in Pasadena.
#creativesadhana
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"Schumann died in a place like this."
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In 2014, I organized a group of musicians to play this quartet by Robert Schumann in Twin Towers Jail in downtown LA. Twin Towers is effectively the nation's largest psychiatric facility, warehousing upwards of 5,000 individuals with severe mental illnesses. Often, these individuals face the revolving door of homelessness and addiction - the jails being the only 'resource' for rehabilitation.

As we set up and began to tune, a person in the front row - an inmate - asked about what we were playing. I casually said "oh, just this quartet by Schumann", thinking that he wouldn't actually be curious or engaged. To my shock, he said, "Oh, that's fitting. Schumann died in a place like this."

He was right. Schumann heard choirs of angels in his head. He wrote his music in a frenzy, often quicker and more manically than Mozart ever did. He spent the last 9 years of his life in an asylum, while his wife, Clara, took care of their 7 children and essentially invented the idea of a 'recital' - she performed constantly, to the point of developing chronic, painful bursitis.

But this insightful comment from this inmate changed the way I play - not just this work - but all music. All performance is about three stories: the story of the performer, the story of the audience, and the story of the composer. If we are doing our work as artists, all three of these stories must come to real life in the space of a 'performance'.

We never know what is hidden in someone's story. If we dare to peer below the surface of what we see, we will uncover entire universes.

#mentalhealthawarenessweek
#creativesadhana
#payattention

Schumann: Quartet Opus 41 No. 1 - Adagio.
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Belonging is the longing to be: the longing to be heard, to be seen, and to be loved. I make music to create belonging: to hear and to be heard, to see and to be seen - to love, and to be loved.

I'm incredibly excited to announce that I've joined @bandcamp as an artist, and will be creating a collection of albums, videos, and performances over the coming weeks. My first release is @reenaesmailcomposer "Darshan", which means "seeing" in Hindi. It is a vision of a world where all beings belong.

Please visit the link in my bio!

#creativesadhana #belonging #payattention
Photo by @bawdenka
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What do we thirst for? What waters nourish us? As we begin to imagine reentry to our world, fragmented by a newfound awareness of the cost of our modern life, we must choose what we wish to nourish.

In time for Good Friday, @reenaesmailcomposer "Varsha" - originally composed for solo cello - evokes the image of Christ dying on the cross, asking for a last drink of water. His thirst is unfulfilled - and so, it is finished.

Composed in the Hindustani raags Megh Malhaar (rain from a distance) and Miyan ki Malhaar (a downpour), Varsha was meant as an interlude between movements of Haydn's "Seven Last Words" - between "In Sitio" (I Thirst) and "Consummatum Est" (It is Finished).

What hallucinations, mirages, liminal spaces might we occupy in the "in-between"? While learning and adapting this work for solo violin - inspired by hearing @petermyerscello perform the work last year at @thewallisbh - I wanted to lean into the 'in-between'-ness of the boundary of life and death. Something in the approach had to be 'unreal', almost dream-like. A few months into working on it, I chose to tune my violin's G-string up to an A, choking up the balance and resonance of the instrument.

I've been ruminating recently on the image of a shattered mirror. We're out of sync with ourselves, with nature, with each other. Each fragment of the mirror we used to know shows us a different, piecemeal reflection. But what if, instead of trying to put the image back together, we focused on the gaps - on the 'in-between'? What new life might spring forth - if we're willing to let our thirst be nourished by this world, so willing to give us new life, if we simply pay attention to its bounty?

Created and recorded by the amazing Louis Ng at All Saints Church in December 2020.

#creativesadhana #payattention
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Before Summer Rain

Suddenly, from all the green around you,
something-you don't know what-has disappeared;
you feel it creeping closer to the window,
in total silence. From the nearby wood

you hear the urgent whistling of a plover,
reminding you of someone's Saint Jerome:
so much solitude and passion come
from that one voice, whose fierce request the downpour

will grant. The walls, with their ancient portraits, glide
away from us, cautiously, as though
they weren't supposed to hear what we are saying.

And reflected on the faded tapestries now;
the chill, uncertain sunlight of those long
childhood hours when you were so afraid.

― Rainer Maria Rilke
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A little teaser of something new in time for #Easter, from @reenaesmailcomposer. #Varsha
#creativesadhana #payattention
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We all want to be seen. 
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We want to be known beneath the fog, the armor. We want others to know our jagged, aching edge - that terrain of ourselves. 

We seem to be asking of every person we meet: will you see me? Will you help me navigate this treacherous landscape of myself? 

@reenaesmailcomposer: “Darshan” for solo violin. 
#creativesadhana #payattention
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The sound of "blood money"!
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Another one of my favorites from #Bach St. Matthew Passion: the text which precedes this movement is literally "Blutgeld", or "blood money", the "murderer's fee, tossed at your feet by the lost son!"

Always and forever blown away by the vociferous imagination of Bach - in this case, the virtuosity of the solo fiddle part is to conjure the image of huge silver coins falling out of a purse. Blutgelt indeed.

Also, so very happy to be reunited with my gorgeous @benningviolins ! Thanks, Eric! She's sounding amazing!
#creativesadhana #payattention
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Have mercy, 
My God, for my tears' sake; 
Look hither, 
Heart and eyes weep before thee. 
Bitterly.
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I've wanted to play the solo violin part of "Erbarme Dich" from #Bach St. Matthew Passion since the moment I heard it, and this Sunday, I finally get to play it with a few friends, for a few neighbors. 

It always strikes me that although we think of Bach as a keyboardist and organist, he often lead his ensembles from the violin - which means he wrote this for himself! He was certainly a man well-acquainted with tears and bitterness - as well as the mercy of looking into one's own heart and finding the divine within. 

(Also, while my gorgeous @benningviolins fiddle is in the shop, it's been an absolute joy getting to know this juicy, deep-chocolate #goffriller. Nothing like the sound of 1700's #Venice.)

#creativesadhana #payattention
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Change happens through gentle, persistent touch. 
***
Starting off the week with a memory of this gentle, persistent giant. I met Lord Yehudi Menuhin when I was about 8 years old at a fancy hotel in New York City. The first thing I saw when he opened the door, praising my red bowtie, was that he was barefoot. 

He had a quiet, simple elegance. On the coffee table of his sprawling suite lay a few cracked walnuts, half a banana, an apple which had recently had a slice carved out of it. He exuded humility. I played the 4th concerto of Mozart for him, but he, perhaps sensing that I had more to offer in musical conversation, cajoled me to play a bit of the then-barely-sightread 3rd movement of Mendelssohn concerto - the concerto which he had made into his lifelong benchmark. No one has ever played it better.

In what became an immensely generous hour and a half, he shared his love for my Indian heritage, his journey as a #yogi, and, prompted by my dad, scrawled a short note about me on the hotel's letterhead. But what stays with me more than anything was his touch - this moment of him teaching me how to play without a shoulder rest wedging the violin firmly between my shoulder and chin. 

At the time, I had never encountered the violin without one, and even after this experience with him it took me years of growing to finally feel brave enough to play without the "crutch". His approach was to listen to my body, to feel the resonance of the instrument connecting to my collarbone - to question, to guide - gentle and persistently. 

I've been thinking of Lord Menuhin quite a lot recently, especially since @DavidHarrington49 reminded me that Menuhin had commissioned Bela #Bartok daunting solo violin sonata. Throughout his career, Menuhin grappled with what it meant to be a child prodigy, redefining himself and his artistry through his approach to music, healing, teaching, and belonging. At times, I wonder if that special, piercing sound of his was really his ability to pierce into the heart of what he encountered: to regard something with loving devotion - and to never look away, no matter how painful. 

#creativesadhana #payattention #yehudimenuhin
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The day is for living, and Bach is for peace.
***
I shared this movement of #Bach with some new friends yesterday, and I thought I'd share it with all of my friends here, too!

(Thanks for the shirt and the inspiration, @johnnyg2703. Friends, check out Johnny Gandelsman's amazing, danceable recordings of Bach. It will do your soul good.)

#creativesadhana
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“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” ― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
***
The breath makes love real. Reena was inspired to write Saans by the story of the composer Cesar Franck, who dedicated his soaring violin sonata for his friend Eugene Ysaye. The composer and the violinist sight-read the sonata on the night of Ysaye's wedding. 

As Reena was completing her Clarinet Concerto, she saw that the 2nd movement of it would be the perfect wedding present for her dear friend and colleague - the amazing pianist Suzana Bartal - and her husband, the composer Eric Tanguy. While Suzana's wedding took place in Paris, Saans was being premiered in Los Angeles. 

Two years later, Suzana, Peter and I performed Saans at The Wallis Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills - and the next day, one year ago today, Reena and I married each other. 

Happy anniversary, @Reenaesmailcomposer!
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Filmed at University of La Verne, February 17, 2020
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MacArthur Photo Credit: John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation