Richard Duckett – Worcester Magazine
Worcester, MA – At the beginning of the year, Vijay Gupta -violinist, social justice advocate, and MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient, saw his upcoming time as Music Worcester’s educational artist-in-residence as “an experiment, a laboratory for my hypotheses if you will.”
In Los Angeles, where he lives, Gupta is the founder and artistic director of Street Symphony, a community of musicians supporting people in transition from homelessness, addiction, and incarceration. “My mission in LA is not only to create world-class experiences of art but transformational experiences for communities,” Gupta said during an interview with Telegram &Gazette in January. “To share the power of music with people.”
Last spring, while in Worcester, Gupta shared the power of music with, among others, inmates at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction. In turn, participating inmates saw and heard their music shared with an audience at Gupta’s concert held May 10 at Mechanics Hall during a live stream of three songs they had written.
‘A national example’
Gupta returns to open Music Worcester’s 2023-24 season with a concert by The Darshan Trio (Gupta, violin, Dominic Cheli, piano, and Yoshika Masuda, cello) titled “See Yourself,” set for 8 p.m. Sept. 23 in Tuckerman Hall.
Gupta’s hypotheses of the good that music can do in society have already been affirmed once again. “It’s remarkable how this came together. It’s remarkable the work that’s already taking place,” Gupta said by phone from Los Angeles said about his Music Worcester residency, taking a break from packing for his next trip East. “It’s remarkable to see the many ways we can make a difference. I think Worcester stands as a national example of how we can really provide support.”
The Sept. 23 concert will include New York City-based dance artist and choreographer Yamini Kalluri, who Gupta brought to Mechanics Hall on May 10, to give an interpretive dance performance, as Kalluri did in the May 10 show.
Kalluri is conducting dance workshops with members/survivors of Living in Freedom Together (LIFT), a Worcester-based organization dedicated to ending the sex trade. Members of Kalluri’s Krtiya Dance Ensemble will also visit, and Gupta will take part in a workshop.
Gupta’s final public performance of his Music Worcester residency is a collaboration of choral, including the Worcester Chorus; instrumental, and dance, including Kritya Dance Ensemble, entitled, “This Love Between Us,” set for Nov. 10 at Mechanics Hall.
“This residency year with Vijay Gupta has exceeded Music Worcester’s expectations and aspirations on all fronts. We feel so fortunate to have forged connections with new long-term partners with leadership and inspiration,” said Music Worcester’s executive director, Adrien C. Finlay.
Other aspects of the residency have included speaking and giving master classes to Worcester Public School students. Some plans for the fall are still to be announced. “We also look forward to announcing some very exciting news regarding the final week of his residency in November very soon,” Finlay said.
A musical upbringing
Gupta grew up in the mid-Hudson Valley of New York. His parents immigrated to the U.S. from India in the 1970s. At 7, Gupta enrolled in the pre-college program at the Juilliard School in New York City. At 11, Gupta performed solo for the first time with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Gupta’s wife is the composer Reena Esmail, whose works have and will be featured at concerts during Gupta’s Worcester residency.
At the Sept. 23 concert in Tuckerman Hall, Esmail’s “Saans” (“Breath”) will be juxtaposed with the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1. This and other juxtapositions — including the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Trio “Archduke” and Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks’ “Episodi eCanto Perpetuo” – will be performed to create a musical “mosaic,” Gupta said.
Also on the program is the third movement of Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio in G minor. With Esmail, S chumann, and Kalluri all on the program, Gupta was also pleased to note that Tuckerman Hall was designed by Josephine Wright Chapman, one of America’s first female architects. “What a gem you have,” he said of Tuckerman Hall. The programming is “no coincidence.”
Making a difference
Gupta has called Mechanics Hall “legendary” and his May 10 concert, “When the Violin,” included a dance interpretation by Kalluri, works by Bach, and the title piece, a composition by Esmail. Also, the audience saw the livestream of the three pre-recorded songs written and sung by about 10 members of the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction.
“The guys loved it,” said Melissa Martiros, founder and CEO of OpporTUNEity Music Connections, a community-based initiative that works with the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction on music programs to help in the rehabilitation of inmates. Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis’ office, OpperTUNEity, and Music Worcester have been working together on Gupta’s visits.
The inmates were impressed that “There was a world-class musician who was interested in being a part of them,” Martiros said.
The livestream was recorded by OpperTUNEity at the jail. At Mechanics Hall, John Wayne Cormier, a former inmate and now an instructor with OpperTUNEity, narrated the live stream. Inmates were able to watch the Mechanics Hall concert as it was livestreamed back to the jail.
Gupta was at the jail to conduct a workshop where he jammed with inmates and played some Bach, Martiros said. “They were super engaged, and pretty inspired after he left.”
OpperTUNEity puts on a 12-week songwriting course at the jail in the spring, summer, and fall, culminating with a performance by the inmates. Gupta was also on hand for the dress rehearsal and spring performance.
The performance is “a big deal” because family members of the inmates are allowed to attend, Martiros said. For some “it’s the first time they’ve seen their families for years.”
Gupta sat on the sidelines and played as a backup musician but delighted in what he saw. At one point a two-year-old child was screaming and Gupta started playing his violin with soothing notes, Martiros said.
Gupta recalled a guard picking up the child and giving the toddler to the father, an inmate.”I’ll never forget that as long as I live,” Gupta said.