Home > Magazine > ChaiTime > THE VIOLINIST OF SKID ROW



Compiled/partly written by Melvin Durai Email Compiled/partly written by Melvin Durai
November 2018

A musical prodigy, Vijay Gupta was just 19 when he joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a violinist in 2007. Since then, he has made his living performing for affluent concertgoers, but it’s his unpaid performances for the underprivileged that have brought him national recognition.

After giving lessons to Nathaniel Ayers, a Juilliard-trained musician whose mental illness led to homelessness, Gupta decided to bring his music to Skid Row, an area of poverty and homelessness in downtown Los Angeles. He co-founded the not-for-profit Street Symphony and, along with dozens of other musicians he has recruited, has given regular concerts to people who would otherwise have no opportunity to listen to classical music.

His work with the underprivileged has earned him a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. As one of 25 winners of the foundation’s 2018 fellowships, Gupta will receive $625,000 to use in any way he chooses.

“Dedicated to bringing beauty, respite, and purpose to those all too often ignored by society, Gupta is demonstrating the capacity of music to validate our shared humanity and focusing needed attention on interrelated social issues that cluster at places such as Skid Row,” the foundation stated.

Gupta told the L. A. Times that he was shocked when he got the call from the foundation while pulling into a parking garage at Disney Hall, where the Philharmonic performs.

“I think I shouted expletives at the committee for the first minute of the phone call,” he said, “because I was in utter disbelief. It was the wildest possible dream.”


Compiled and partly written by Indian humorist MELVIN DURAI, author of the novel Bala Takes the Plunge.

[Comments? Contributions? We would love to hear from you about Chai Time. If you have contributions, please email us at melvin@melvindurai.com. We welcome jokes, quotes, online clips, and more.]

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