Page 20 - Marist Magazine Fall 2012

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A Life Less Ordinary:
Violinist Robert Gupta ’05
Releases His First CD
I
s there such a thing as a typical day in the life
of Robert Gupta ’05? Here’s a guy, after all, who
completed his undergraduate studies in biology
at age 18 at Marist, finished a master’s in music
at Yale University at 19, and became the youngest
member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic just shy
of his 20th birthday. If the story ended there, that
would be remarkable enough.
But that would underestimate Robert Gupta.
Now 25 and still the youngest member of the
Philharmonic, Gupta recently recorded his
debut album, Suryodaya, a self-described “musi-
cal journey from India to Los Angeles,” on a 1716
Stradivarius belonging to a patron in the City of
Angels. Recorded at Walt Disney Concert Hall
in July and financed entirely through gifts from
the online funding platformKickstarter, all pro-
ceeds from the CD will go toward Gupta’s other
passion project: the Street Symphony program.
Street Symphony grew out of a relation-
ship Gupta developed with Nathaniel Ayers,
face of 50,000 homeless people in L.A. What
do you do? It became a catalyst for me to not
turn a blind eye toward homelessness anymore.”
With his background in neuroscience,
Gupta has always been intrigued by the healing
possibilities of music. “Is there a role for music
in mental illness?” he asks. Street Symphony
became that vehicle to explore the connec-
tion. Since its inception, Gupta and his fellow
musicians (not only from the Philharmonic,
but also students from the Colburn School and
University of Southern California) have played
for audiences ranging from homeless patrons of
the Midnight Mission on Skid Row to veterans
at a center in Long Beach and nonviolent offend-
ers at four different L.A. County jails. By his own
count, Gupta has played a total of 47 events in
the last 16 months.
“We try to bring music to the most deeply
underserved, mentally ill individuals who are
dealing with homelessness and incarceration,”
Gupta (upper right) and fellow
musicians have played for
audiences ranging from patrons
of the Midnight Mission on Skid
Row (above) to veterans at a center
in Long Beach and nonviolent
offenders at four different L.A.
County jails.
the Juilliard-educated musician and homeless
schizophrenic made famous by Jamie Foxx’s
portrayal in the 2009 filmThe Soloist. The two
met in 2008, at a birthday party for Ayers at a
bowling alley in Glendale, Calif. “He started
asking me questions about this really difficult
passage at the end of a Beethoven symphony,
and I didn’t know how to describe it,” Gupta
recalls. “And I had my violin with me, so I pulled
it out and started playing it.”
A couple of weeks later, Gupta got an e-mail
from Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez
saying that Ayers wanted violin lessons. During
their first lesson, “Nathaniel had a complete
manic episode. His eyes went completely blood-
shot. I really saw a very disturbing manifestation
of mental illness right in front of me. And what
was striking was the fact that it was happening
with a violin in his hands.” As he found his com-
posure, Ayers started throwing out requests. “I
related to this guy,” Gupta says. “But that’s one
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