Vijay Gupta ’07MM, on music as a vehicle for social justice

Vijay Gupta

Violinist and YSM alum Vijay Gupta ’07MM is a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the founder and artistic director of Street Symphony, an organization that “serves to foster a dialogue which tells the unheard stories of the most marginalized communities in Los Angeles through the power of musical expression,” according to language on its website. We spoke with Vijay about the artist’s role in society.

Q: What experiences at Yale and the Yale School of Music, and in New Haven, inform the work you’re doing now with Street Symphony and in terms of how the arts can be a vehicle for social justice in a larger sense?

A: Well, it was two classes in particular. One was my Hearing class with Joan Panetti, which totally transformed the way that I teach and perform and collaborate. I was actually Dr. Panetti’s TA for my second whole year at YSM, so that was really, really special for me. And it’s kind of amazing, I kind of feel Dr. Panetti coming up in my voice and in my steps when I teach, so that’s very cool. The second class was a survey of late Beethoven by Markus Rathey, and he went through, I think, from Op. 90 until the end of Beethoven. And just being able to present in his class, and being able to look at the composers for who they were as people and not just as these marble busts of dead white guys, really, really changed the way that I approach playing. And it’s a direct correlation to the way that I lead programs when I play Beethoven or Schumann in a county jail, because our audiences are not interested in how well we play, they’re interested in the stories. They’re, in a sense, interested in the humanity of the composers. So those are two things that I got from those two classes. And of course I have to give credit to my amazing teacher, who was Ani Kavafian. She was just so wonderful and kind and got me to think about different aspects of my playing that I hadn’t even thought about before, but she also cared about me as a person, which was kind of new for me having come from the conservatory system. Oftentimes in those situations my personhood didn’t count as much as how well I played my etudes. But I played a lot of Baroque violin at school with ISM; I was playing with Robert Mealy and that was an extension of what I was getting from Markus Rathey’s class and from Joan Panetti’s class. It was a very natural extension of what was going on in the life of these composers as they were composing. And one direct example of how that’s showed up for me in my organization is in our Messiah project. We do a yearly sing-along of Handel’s Messiah in Skid Row at a homeless shelter. And we’ve actually now started placing formerly homeless Desert Storm combat veterans as our soloists, and we give them lessons all year long. And when you look at the situation in which Handel performed his Messiah, it wasn’t in a concert hall, it was in an orphan’s hospital, and the first concert released 142 men from debtor’s prison. So if we’re really doing authentic performance practice, if we’re really going to put our mouth where our money is with regard to what these composers were actually dreaming and thinking as they composed, then we also have to have the same kind of social understanding of what kind of music our community needs. It became very clear to me at school that these composers were writing for their communities. I’m sorry to go on a little bit here, but Bach’s passions would have been called engagement sing-along concerts today, because everybody in the audience knew those chorales and they stood up and sang them. So what’s our modern day Messiah? That’s the kind of question that I’m asking in my head right now as I lead my life and do my stuff.

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Published August 29, 2017
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Markus Rathey publishes book on Bach’s major vocal works

Markus RatheyYSM Associate Professor of Music History and renowned Bach scholar Markus Rathey has published a new book via Yale University Press, focusing on Johann Sebastian Bach’s major vocal works. Titled Bach’s Major Vocal Works: Music, Drama, Liturgy, the book provides an introduction to the music and cultural contexts of the composer’s most beloved masterpieces, including the Magnificat, Christmas Oratorio, and St. John Passion.

In addition to providing historical information, each chapter highlights significant aspects — such as the theology of love — of a particular piece. This volume is the first to treat the vocal works as a whole, showing how the compositions were embedded in their original performative context within the liturgy as well as discussing Bach’s musical style, from the detailed level of individual movements to the overarching aspects of each work.

To purchase and read more about the book, visit the book’s page on Yale University Press’s website.

Published March 1, 2016
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Markus Rathey receives Scheide Research Grant

Markus Rathey, an associate professor of music history at the School of Music and the Institute of Sacred Music as well as the Music Department, is the recipient of the William H. Scheide Research Grant for 2011.

The William H. Scheide Research Grant, awarded once every two years to a member of the American Bach Society, provides support for a research project on Bach or figures in his circle. The grant will enable Rathey to spend a month in Germany this summer to continue his research on Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Rathey will examine Bach’s autograph score of the oratorio in the German National Library in Berlin as well as further sources in Leipzig.

Rathey studied musicology, Protestant theology, and German philology in Bethel and Münster. He taught at the University of Mainz and the University of Leipzig and was a research fellow at the Bach-Archiv, Leipzig, before joining the Yale faculty in 2003. His research interests are music of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, Johann Sebastian Bach, and the relationship among music, religion, and politics during the Enlightenment. Recent publications include the books Johann Rudolph Ahle (1625–1673): Lebensweg und Schaffen (Eisenach, 1999), an edition of Johann Georg Ahle’s Music Theoretical Writings (Hildesheim, 2007, 2nd edition 2008), and Kommunikation und Diskurs: Die Bürgerkapitänsmusiken Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs (Hildesheim, 2009). He was guest editor of a volume of the German journal Musik und Kirche (2005) on church music in the United States. He has contributed numerous articles to Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, the Laaber Lexikon der Kirchenmusik, and to the handbook for the new German Hymnal (Liederkunde zum Evangelischen Gesangbuch). Professor Rathey is president of the Forum on Music and Christian Scholarship and serves on the editorial board of the Bach Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Society. Ph.D., Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster.

Published January 6, 2011
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New book on C.P.E. Bach from Markus Rathey

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Dr. Markus Rathey, associate professor of music history at the Institute of Sacred Music, was recently named Class of 1960 Fellow at Williams College (Williamstown, Mass.). In the Class of 1960 Fellows Program, Williams College invites outstanding figures to visit the campus. As distinguished fellow he will spend several days in the music department, talk to classes and deliver a public lecture to the college community. Prof. Rathey will visit Williams College in late February 2010 and lecture on “Defeminizing Virtue – Johann Sebastian Bach’s Hercules-Cantata and the Christmas Oratorio.”

A few weeks ago Professor Markus Rathey’s most recent book was published. Titled Kommunikation und Diskurs: Die Bürgerkapitänsmusiken Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs (Olms 2009), the book explores the relationship between music, philosophy, and patriotism in Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s compositions for the militia in Hamburg in the second half of the 18th century. The study explores a wide spectrum of sources, spanning from the musical sources for Bach’s compositions over philosophical treatises, newspaper articles from the 1780s, to children’s’ books from this time and paints a fascinating and vivid image of music and culture during German Enlightenment.

Published January 8, 2010
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