Violinist returning to Naperville with message of expression
A professional violinist and public speaker made such a connection last year with students in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 that he'll be back to speak and perform for them again next week.
Vijay Gupta, a former Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra concertmaster and MacArthur Genius Award recipient, is also set to perform for the public at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Wentz Hall on the campus of North Central College, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville.
His show, hosted by the nonprofit organization ARTSpeaks, will feature Gupta as a soloist on a new piece by composer Reena Esmail called "Concerto For You," with the Neuqua Valley High School Symphonic Strings as his accompaniment.
The theme of the concert is "Hear Your Voice," and it will serve as the highlight of an artist-in-residence program next week with Gupta and Esmail, in which they will encourage students to embrace and express their identity, said Chip Staley, founder of ARTSpeaks and former chairman of the Neuqua Valley fine arts department.
"Music and art can provide an opportunity to discuss who they are and give their distinctive voice a means for expression," Staley said.
Gupta shared a similar message about identity and expression in February 2018, when he visited the three high schools in District 204 and North Central College. Staley, said the appearance went so well, he and Gupta began planning a return before the violinist had left.
"Many of our students identified with his personal story," Staley said. "He was quick to see that reflected."
Part of Gupta's story is his talent as a violinist and his status as a "high-achieving doer," Staley said.
Gupta joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at age 19 and remained a member for more than a decade before stepping down recently to pursue philanthropic work and speaking engagements through the nonprofit orchestra he founded, Street Symphony, which brings performances to people who are homeless or incarcerated.
But with talent and success come expectations and pressure. Staley said Gupta saw that pressure evident in the lives of students he connected with last year.
"These kids need to be reassured that who they are right now is of value. He wished he had somebody to tell him that when he was young," Staley said. "As somebody who represents a leader in the arts and social action, somebody who is South Asian, he really feels like he can make an impact with some students who may see themselves in him."
Gupta is bringing composer Esmail, along with the piece she wrote, which Staley said is for anyone who is pondering "who they are, who they want to be, being true to themselves."
"Concerto For You" has been written at the performance level of high school students, and the members of Neuqua's Symphonic Strings have been rehearsing it under director Greg Schwaegler.
The concerto is meant to explore "our interconnectedness as humans," Staley said, and its performance on the Wentz Hall stage will break down barriers and structures in music, starting with the tradition that the soloist always takes center stage.
"(Esmail is) going to play with that a little bit and they're going to talk about that message with the audience," Staley said.
Tickets are two for $25 with the code "Symphonic Strings" or $10 each for students and seniors, available at https://northcentral.vbotickets.com/events.