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.


Published August 29, 2017
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[ in the press ]

Boston Globe: Antico Moderno focuses on fresh sounds for period instruments

antico-moderno-webBoston Globe | By David Weininger
May 15, 2015

Jacques Wood’s eureka moment came when he was a graduate student at Yale. Having completed the academic portion of his doctoral studies in cello performance, Wood in 2010 began an immersion in early music practice with Robert Mealy, one of the country’s prominent historical-string players. For many musicians trained on modern instruments, the first serious encounter with instruments of the past can be such a bombshell that they end up pursuing early music with a convert’s zeal.

For Wood, the experience brought a different insight no less revelatory. “My initial reaction was that playing early music for the first time felt a lot like playing new music for the first time,” he said in a recent conversation at a Harvard Square cafe. “It’s the same feeling, where there’s no tradition attached to it. You’re looking at it for the first time.” MORE

Published May 15, 2015
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[ concerts ]

Violinists from the Yale Baroque Ensemble perform virtuoso program Nov. 18 & 19

Yale Baroque Ensemble 2014-15The Yale School of Music will present members of the Yale Baroque Ensemble in a baroque violin recital on Tuesday and Wednesday, November 18 and 19. Each performance takes place at 5:30 pm at the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments (15 Hillhouse Avenue, New Haven).

The recital features violinists Hyejin Koh and Seul-A Lee, both current members of the postgraduate Yale Baroque Ensemble. They will be joined by Christopher Hwang, baroque cello; Stephen Gamboa, harpsichord; and Arash Noori, theorbo. MORE

Published November 14, 2014
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Yale Collection of Musical Instruments live streams Juilliard Baroque Sunday

purvis collectionNew Haven Register
By Joe Amarante

NEW HAVEN >> Tickets to the Sunday afternoon concerts at the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments museum on Hillhouse Avenue are a tough get. But there is a way to be a part of this series in celebration of the skilled instrument craft and musical artistry that continues Sunday at 3 p.m. with a Juilliard Baroque ensemble concert.

The concert will be held in the acoustically strong, second-floor gallery at the Collection on Hillhouse Avenue that only seats about 100 people. You can call the Yale School of Music concert office at 203-432-4158 to see if you can get a reservation, but the other way to experience the concert is by calling up the live stream of it online at

“It’s fantastic. It’s so beautiful,” the Yale Collection’s Director William Purvis said of the concert space, which this week will include the Blanchet harpsichord from the 18th century. “The space is wonderful for the harpsichord.” MORE

Published January 28, 2014
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[ concerts ]

Yale Baroque Ensemble performs “musique de chambre” Dec. 8

YBE_2013-14The Yale School of Music will present the Yale Baroque Ensemble on Sunday, December 8, 2013. Directed by faculty member Robert Mealy, the ensemble will perform a concert of elaborate and virtuosic music of the French Baroque. The performance begins at 3 pm in Morse Recital Hall, located in Sprague Hall at 470 College Street, New Haven.

The program features Couperin’s great last large-scale chamber work, “L’Imperiale” from Les Nations. Also on the program are brilliant sonatas by Leclair, Barrières, and others.  MORE

Published November 13, 2013
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[ concerts ]

Yale Baroque Ensemble performs Bach Oct. 8

Jurrian 1

Jurrian van der Zanden

The Yale School of Music will present members of the Yale Baroque Ensemble in their first concert of the year on Tuesday, October 8, 2013. The program will focus on chamber music of J.S. Bach.

The Yale Baroque Ensemble (YBE) is a postgraduate ensemble whose members undertake a year of intensive study. The new members featured in this performance are Nayeon Kim, baroque violin, and Jurrian van der Zanden, baroque cello. They will be joined by harpsichordist David Fung. MORE

Published September 16, 2013
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At the Metropolitan Opera’s Giulio Cesare, Speaking Truth to Power

Early Music America
By Judith Malafronte

mealy“We played through the score together and we just clicked,” says Laura Hamilton, principal associate concertmaster of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. She was talking about a recent powwow with Baroque violinist Robert Mealy as she prepared for the Met’s spring 2013 run of Handel’s Giulio Cesare. It was to be conducted by British early music specialist Harry Bicket, and a colleague had recommended a coaching session with Mealy.

“It was great fun,” Mealy recalls. “Laura was so quick, so responsive, it was a blast.” The expressive physicality of Mealy’s music-making is well-known, and it’s easy to imagine his charismatic communication as the two played through the violin parts to Sextus’s furious aria “Svegliatevi nel core,” Caesar’s seductive “Non è si vago e bello,” Cleopatra’s tragic lament, “Se pietà di me non senti,” and the buoyant, triumphant “Da tempeste.” MORE

Published September 12, 2013
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Yale Baroque Ensemble performs Dussek, Haydn, and Mozart Apr. 4

Concert explores hallmarks of European Classical period

The Yale School of Music will present the Yale Baroque Ensemble on Thursday, April 4, 2013. Directed by faculty member Robert Mealy, the ensemble will perform the works of European musical pioneers Dussek, Haydn, and Mozart.

The Yale Baroque Ensemble (YBE) is a postgraduate ensemble whose members undertake a year of intensive study. This year’s members are Holly Piccoli and Edson Scheid, baroque violin; Soojin Chung, baroque cello; and David Fung, fortepiano. MORE

Published March 22, 2013
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Yale Baroque Ensemble performs Nov. 30

Program features music from Corelli to Vivaldi

The Yale School of Music presents a recital by the Yale Baroque Ensemble on Friday, November 30 at 8 pm.

The members of the postgraduate ensemble — Holly Piccoli and Edson Scheid, baroque violins; Soojin Chung, baroque cello; and David Fung, harpsichord – will perform music spanning the early to the high baroque. The program will include both ensemble and solo works by Gabrieli, Castello, Merula, Corelli, Scarlatti, and Vivaldi.

The Yale Baroque ensemble is directed by early music specialist Robert Mealy. All four members of the ensemble are graduates of the Yale School of Music.

The concert takes place in Morse Recital Hall, located in Sprague Hall at 470 College Street, New Haven. Admission is free.

For more information, call the Yale School of Music concert office at 203 432-4158 or visit MORE

Published November 27, 2012
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Dancing Through Time: May 3 concert features suites by Lully, Purcell, Rameau

Baroque orchestra led by Robert Mealy

The Yale School of Music will present a concert called Dancing Through Time on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 8 pm. Featuring orchestral suites by Lully, Purcell, and Rameau, the concert will take place in Morse Recital Hall (located in Sprague Hall at 470 College Street, New Haven).

The concert explores the rich world of the French Baroque suite, with dances from Lully’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme and Purcell’s King Arthur, as well as an orchestral suite taken from Rameau’s astonishing score of Dardanus.

Members of the orchestra have been studying baroque performance with Robert Mealy, a professor of violin and early music at Yale. Described by the New Yorker as “a world-class early music violinist,” Mealy leads ensembles such as the Yale Collegium Musicum players and the Yale Baroque Ensemble.

Students in his baroque orchestral performance class perform on the Yale School of Music’s replicas of baroque instruments, and string players utilize the School’s collection of baroque bows.

No tickets are required; the concert is free and open to the public. For more information, call the Yale School of Music concert office at 203 432-4158 or visit MORE

Published April 17, 2012
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