Vijay Gupta | Photo by John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Hit play below to listen to our Arts Alive feature on LA’s new MacArthur Foundation Fellows.

Hit play below to listen to our extended interview with MacArthur Foundation Fellow Vijay Gupta.

Two prominent Los Angeles-area musicians were among the 25 MacArthur Foundation Fellows announced recently. The fellowship comes with a cash stipend of $625,000, paid out quarterly over five years.

Matthew Aucoin | Photo by John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Composer, conductor, and LA Opera’s Artist in Residence Matthew Aucoin was one of the local musicians who is now a MacArthur Fellow. LA Opera presented his opera Crossing about Walt Whitman not long ago. He’s conducting Joby Talbot’s new score for a screening the 1931 German expressionist film Vampyr later this month at the Ace Hotel. That’s also part of LA Opera’s Off-Grand initiative. Aucoin told NPR this week the award is a gift of time and he plans to donate a portion to the Against Malaria Foundation and other charities recommended by GiveWell, basically paying it forward.

The other Angeleno who was recently named a MacArthur Fellow was LA Phil violinist and the founder of Street Symphony, Vijay Gupta. Gupta joined KUSC’s recent live LA Phil broadcast on the day the announcement became public. He told us he had known for about a month.

“I got the phone call as I was on my way to rehearsal at Walt Disney Concert Hall. And they called just as I was walking in for rehearsal, so I had to text our personnel manager, Jeff Neville, who gives the most unbelievably withering look if you’re late to rehearsal and I couldn’t tell him why. So, that made for a very exciting Schubert 6 rehearsal that morning.”

Vijay Gupta founded Street Symphony—an organization based on Skid Row—in 2010.

“In the last eight years, Street Symphony ensembles—comprised of leading classical, jazz, mariachi, reggae, Afro-Cuban musicians from all over Los Angeles, including musicians from the Skid Row community itself—have presented over 500 free concerts in Skid Row clinics, in shelters, as well as in all five LA County jail facilities, juvenile hall, and state prisons as well. Part of the work of Street Symphony is that it’s never just a concert: it’s always a conversation. We’re not doing ‘outreach.’ We’re focusing on what it means to do engagement and in a sense creating a radical mutual container through a musical experience.”

Gupta says he wants these spaces of radical mutuality to be fully inclusive: where it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your financial or housing situation is, or whether or not you are incarcerated. You belong no matter what.

“The question we’re asking at Street Symphony is, what does it mean to take music beyond the sacred stage of the concert hall and into the other sacred stages in our society? Why isn’t making music in a county jail or prison as worthy and as valid to us as musicians as playing anywhere else?”

These questions, and many others raised by Vijay Gupta and Street Symphony, don’t have easy answers. And for a long time, no one was even asking.

Correction: We previously reported that Matthew Aucoin was donating a portion of his fellowship to artists. He is, in fact, donating a portion of his fellowship to the Against Malaria Foundation and other charities recommended by GiveWell.

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