We Need Darkness to See the Stars: Vijay Gupta on Street Symphony


A man playing a violin stands next to a woman speaking into a microphone

Vijay Gupta and Street Symphony composer-in-residence Reena Esmail. Photo by Kat Bawden


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It’s not a stretch to say Vijay Gupta is a phenomenon. He passed a Juilliard audition at age six. He made his solo debut with the Israel Philharmonic at age 11. He graduated pre-med from Marist College at 17, and went on to study spinal cord repair at Hunter College and then Parkinson’s Disease at Harvard. He joined the LA Philharmonic Orchestra at 19, the youngest musician to ever join its ranks. He founded the nonprofit Street Symphony at age 24. He was named a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow in 2017 and, a year later, received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. Vijay Gupta is only 31 years old.

Of all his accomplishments (so far), establishing Street Symphony perhaps best encompasses both Gupta’s artistic vision and his tremendous generosity and humbleness. Disturbed by the large homeless population in Los Angeles (the city’s Skid Row is home to nearly 20,000 human beings), he launched Street Symphony in 2011, an organization dedicated to empowering the lives of those on the margins—particularly those living on the street or in jail—through artistic engagement and musical training. He opted to use his skills to combat social inequity through the transformative power of art, and to reach the overwhelming number of lost souls without a home, unmoored and adrift in one of the wealthiest cities on planet Earth. And it’s working.

Listen to hear the story of Street Symphony.