Vijay Gupta

Violinist. Speaker. Advocate.

May 24, 2020


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

What’s Next

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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October 13, 2018

NPR’s Weekend Edition

October 10, 2018

KCRW Press Play with Madeleine Brand

October 5, 2018

BBC World Service (London)

October 5, 2018

Washington Post: The violinist for LA’s skid row wins a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant

October 4, 2018

KPCC Take Two Feature

August 17, 2018

NBC Dateline Feature: Vijay Gupta’s Story

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"When the violin can forgive every wound caused by others, the heart starts singing." - Hafiz

By Reena Esmail, Composer, created by Lenson Productions.

Originally written for choir and cello, this piece is based on the Hindustani raga "Charukeshi", which signifies grief: the sweetness, the longing, and tender unfolding to the new life that only forgiveness can bring.

From Reena's notes on this work: "This piece is about that first moment of trust, of softening. About the most inward moments of the human experience, of realizing that ‘breakthroughs’ often don’t have the hard edge, the burst of energy that the word implies, but that they can be about finding tender, warm, deeply resonant spaces within ourselves as well."

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Comment on Facebook When the Violin ...

Heard him love it... the music just takes you away...PeggySue

My grandpa played the fiddle. He played Pop Goes The weasel

Very emotional l liked it very much thank youn

I. Love. Violin

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A few of the books which have consumed me this year. ⁠⠀
7 key ideas: ⁠⠀

1. We can’t consume our way back to wholeness. ⁠Take less. Give more. ⠀

2. Relationships, especially those within small groups, are nourishing. ⁠⠀

3. Taking the moral ‘high ground’ blinds us to the values and experiences of others. ⁠⠀

4. Any kind of supremacy disconnects us from what nourishes us (see above): supremacy over others, supremacy over the earth is toxic to ourselves.

5. Hierarchies can be useful when we are in real dialogue. Be willing to turn the hierarchy upside down and imagine where you would be. Be willing to turn the hierarchy on its side and engage all perspectives. ⁠⠀

6. We belong to the earth. Not the other way around. We are guests here. ⁠⠀

7. Be willing to learn and relearn the rules. Humility is about informing oneself and then returning back to a state of innocence and receptivity. ⁠⠀

“Oh Goddess who is the wisdom of intelligence, the goddess of words, the greatest, manifestation of the qualities of light and dark - our Goddess, please have mercy on us. We bow to you, Narayani!”⁠⠀
मेधे सरस्वति वरे भूति बाभ्रवि तामसि ।⁠⠀
नियते त्वं प्रसीदेशे नारायणि नमोऽस्तु ते ⁠⠀
Medhe Sarasvati vare bhuti baabhravi tamasi ⁠⠀
Neeyate tvam prasideshe Narayani namostute ⁠⠀
The Goddess Durga is manifest as all qualities - the transcendent Divine, the Goddess of prosperity, as well as the Goddess of destruction, of rage, of darkness. As she dances to the sound of drums, all we can do is surrender.⁠⠀
This day, #Bijoya or #BijoyaDashami, sees the culmination of the 9 nights of the worship of Goddess Durga - the celebration of #Navaratri, and #DurgaPujo - an especially sacred festival for Bengali Hindus. For me as a child, this time was filled with the sound of drums, music, chanting, running around barefoot in fire stations and homes in upstate New York - and amazing, amazing food. ⁠⠀
Jai Ma Durga! Shubho Bijoya!⁠⠀
Photo: @bawdenka ⁠⠀

“In order to master the unruly torrent of life the learned man meditates, the poet quivers, and the political hero erects the fortress of his will.”⁠⠀
Jose Ortega y Gasset⁠⠀
Salonen: Lachen Verlernt (laughing unlearned)⁠⠀
Learning this piece has felt like a balancing act between meditation, quivering, and wanting to erect a fortress. Lachen Verlernt has become a new torrent of obsession. ⁠⠀

So thrilled to be part of this conversation today with @sarahelizabethlewis1 @hankwillisthomas and Hồng-An Trương at @thegraduatecenter @humanitiescuny

New event in our CHANGE series! 10/21 - How Artists Lead the Way, feat. Hank Willis Thomas, Hồng-An Trương & Vijay Gupta, moderated by Sarah Lewis, prof. at @harvard. Register on Zoom - LINK IN BIO.

#Artists are often at the forefront of cultural #change, pointing us in the direction of a more equal and democratic society. The artist plays a central role in questioning assumptions, visualizing new structures, and picturing a better world. Join us for a cross-disciplinary panel about #art & #socialjustice.

#visionandjustice #contemporaryart #creativesadhana @wideawakes @forfreedoms @humanitiescuny @jamesgallerygc

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”⁠⠀
― Rumi⁠⠀
Biber: Passacaglia⁠⠀
I have loved this piece for nearly 15 years now: this lonely hymn to the Guardian Angel was likely composed by Heinrich Biber before Bach was even born. The four descending bass-notes become a guide - inviting us to listen, ever more deeply, to that strange pull of what we really love. ⁠⠀

Writing is a way of finding what you believe. ⁠⠀
Each morning for the last several months, I’ve practiced writing morning pages - what @timferriss calls spiritual windshield wipers: 3 straight pages of freewriting, no judgment, no questions, no pause. ⁠⠀
This practice, first taught in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, has become a lifeline: a way to get the muck of my monkey-mind out in the open - and to clear the way for insights and inspiration. Sometimes I find myself talking to God, or letting unleaded vitriol pour from my nib - and other times utterly taken aback by something tender and poetic which comes out in the last few lines of the last page. ⁠⠀
This #creativesadhana always feels like it’s too much, and never enough. ⁠⠀

I’ve always been exactly *this* thrilled about wearing a tux. ...

If the sun comes up, I have a chance. ⁠⠀
- Venus Williams⁠⠀
Practice: #Bach, Sonata in C major: Allegro Assai⁠⠀

Before you act, listen.⁠⠀
Before you react, think.⁠⠀
Before you spend, earn. ⁠⠀
Before you criticize, wait. ⁠⠀
Before you pray, forgive. ⁠⠀
Before you quit, try. ⁠⠀
Ernest Hemingway⁠⠀
Practice: #Bach, Sonata in C major: Largo⁠⠀

Don’t react. Respond. ⁠⠀
I’ve been getting caught up in “doom-scrolling”. I look at my watch and am shocked to find that a whole 15 minutes gets erased from my day, sucked into the void of half-read blurbs and videos. ⁠⠀
Cultivating a #creativesadhana is an invitation to make a world that is not reactive. It’s a calling to create a world based on what we value, what we desire, what we envision. ⁠⠀
What will be your next response? How will you create the world you want to see? ⁠⠀
Photo credit: @bawdenka ⁠⠀

Hey everyone! I’m so glad to be sharing my journey of #creativesadhana with you, and with a wave of recent new followers, I thought that it would be a great time to share a little more about myself!⁠⠀
I live in Los Angeles, and for 12 years, I was a member of the first violin section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It was my first job right out of school (, and my first orchestral audition. A few years into my time in the orchestra, I started an organization called @streetsymph, which is dedicated to serving the largest recovery and reentry community in America - the #SkidRow neighborhood of #Los Angeles.⁠⠀
That same year, I joined @tedfellows and gave my first @ted talk about encountering a musician in Skid Row who taught me more about music - and humanity - than I could possibly imagine.⁠⠀
At the end of 2018, I said goodbye to my position in the Philharmonic and embarked on a new life as a musician, speaker, and non-profit leader. I’m incredibly lucky to share my work as a keynote speaker, panelist and facilitator for conferences, companies, and universities. I am particularly inspired by passionate young people - especially musicians who are curious about creating a world that is more connected and more whole.⁠⠀
I believe that music, that all art, is a powerful force of transformation: art is the connecting force of humanity, and a place for us all to belong. Now, as we encounter and weather change as a daily occurrence of life, art is our way back to our truest selves.

No hurry no pause.⁠⠀
Practice: #Bach, Sonata in C major: Largo #bachthevote⁠⠀
I imagine taking a step with every beat of this movement - a slow, inevitable procession.⁠⠀
There is no hurry. No urgency to arrive. Just the constant unfolding - like breath.⁠⠀
But there is also no pause.⁠⠀
Change is inevitable.⁠⠀

Lean into what you love: If you’re only counting your mistakes, you’re not making progress.
Last week, I had two intense days of recording: on day 1, four short pieces by @ReenaEsmailComposer - and on day 2, a project for @streetsymph. (Stay tuned for both!)

This is a screenshot from my iPad of how I went through my 5 takes for Reena’s arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s “Make Our Garden Grow”, from Candide.

As I was going through my takes, I noticed at first that I was only marking the things I didn’t like about my playing (which you can see in the little “x” marks in the photo). At the end, as I was trying to piece together a cohesive series of edits to make a track, I realized that I had only counted where I messed up - and I had nearly nothing to show for the parts I actually *liked* - or even, possibly, loved about my own playing.

It’s like when we look in the mirror: we immediately see the pimple, or the bags under our eyes. Do we ever actually allow ourselves to look at anything *but* the flaws?

Which lead me to an existential question: I had been practicing to “fix” mistakes - but had I been practicing to cultivate more of what I actually loved?

I was only counting my mistakes - and at the end, I was seeing the entire series of takes as “where I didn’t screw it.” That’s not how I want to make music. I want to lean into what I truly love.

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MacArthur Photo Credit: John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation