L.A. Phil violinist Vijay Gupta is leaving the orchestra and taking his song to the streets

Vijay Gupta, pictured outside the Midnight Mission on skid row, is leaving the Los Angeles Philharmonic to focus on activism, including his Street Symphony, which performs for the homeless and in jails.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

When Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist Vijay Gupta won a MacArthur fellowship earlier this year for his social justice work, an award that came with a $625,000 no-strings-attached stipend, the obvious question was: What next?

The answer: Gupta told The Times that he will give up his seat as one of the L.A. Phil’s first violins to focus on his activism, to teach and to develop his nonprofit Street Symphony, which since 2011 has been performing free concerts for Los Angeles’ homeless and in county jails. His last concert as a full-time member of the L.A. Phil will be Sunday.

Gupta, who joined the orchestra as a teenager in 2007 and was its youngest musician, said he’s also looking forward to “just having time to rest and reflect”


“I feel like the L.A. Phil saved my life when I was a 19-year-old kid. It was the way that I was able to continue being a musician and to continue growing as an artist” he said. “And I’m really excited to take that artistry beyond Los Angeles and beyond the work of being in an orchestra.”

Gupta, 31, is creating part-time operations and management positions at Street Symphony. The nonprofit is moving from Gupta’s living room into its first office, a downtown space it will share with the homeless advocacy and performance group Los Angeles Poverty Department. He’s also hoping to expand its fellows program, in which skid row musicians study for up to a year with professional musicians.

The idea, he said, is “to shore up the infrastructure of the organization so that Street Symphony can grow and flourish beyond Vijay Gupta.”

In mid-July, Street Symphony will stage a block party featuring its various ensembles, an event held in conjunction with the Midnight Mission on skid row.

Starting in January, Gupta will guest lecture at the Juilliard School in New York. And he hopes to continue teaching his “pathways to citizen artistry” class at L.A.’s Colburn School.

But he won’t stop playing music.

“I’m really excited about playing other genres of music beyond classical music,” he said. “I really want to learn and play Hindustani music, which is the music of my culture. I want to find the things that terrify me and lean into them.”


Gupta spent 11 years with the L.A. Phil, so leaving won’t be easy, he said. But the L.A. Phil will still play a central role in Gupta’s life. Some of its musicians are members of Street Symphony, and Gupta will go on tour with the orchestra in Seoul and Tokyo this spring as a guest violinist.

At Gupta’s farewell concert on Sunday, Zubin Mehta will conduct Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto and Symphony.

“I am who I am because of my colleagues at the L.A. Phil,” Gupta said. “There are still a lot of questions for me, but [leaving] kind of frees me to continue exploring what it means to be an artist and a citizen in our world today.”


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