A night of conversation and live music with Street Symphony

The Street Symphony quartet performing at KCRW. Photo credit: Amy Ta/KCRW

We collaborated with violinist Vijay Gupta, who we met when he won a MacArthur Genius grant last year. He’s 31 years old now, and he first began performing when he was just 4 years old.

He told us in that original interview, “I was always seen as the ‘prodigy.’ And seen as being this really bright, shiny person. But as a result, I was never allowed to be angry. I was never allowed to be sad. I was never allowed to be tired. I had to be on. So I learned how to be on. I made my whole life out of that. And that’s even a question now. What does it mean to begin to take care of myself for the first time?”

Vijay Gupta performing at KCRW’s Annenberg Performance Studio. Photo credit: Amy Ta/KCRW

Well, now he is doing exactly what he wants to do.

He quit the LA Phil to devote himself full time to his non-profit Street Symphony. The organization brings classical music to Skid Row, which is just a mile away from Walt Disney Concert Hall. The two are much farther apart in other ways.

In an effort to bring these worlds a little closer together, we brought Vijay, a quartet of Street Symphony musicians, and two composers from Street Symphony onstage for a chat and performance.

Reena Esmail was one of the composers. She studied music at Juilliard and Yale. She blends classical Indian music and western music. She tells us, “As a child of immigrants, we always have to make a lesser version of ourselves and take this sliver that also fits into western culture perfectly.”

The other composer was Ben Shirley, who used to live on Skid Row because of drug and alcohol addiction. He told us how his time at Skid Row’s Midnight Mission saved him, and how he got involved with Street Symphony.

Vijay Gupta, violin
Mitchell Newman, violin
Tonya Burton, viola
Dustin Seo, cello
Reena Esmail, vocals




Amy Ta