The L.A. Philharmonic’s first violinist performed on Wednesday for homeless men and women at downtown’s Skid Row Mental Health Center.
Robert Gupta is a friend and teacher of Nathaniel Ayers, who inspired newspaper columns and later the book and movie, “The Soloist.” No matter how often he visits, Gupta says the people who live on Skid Row affect him.
“When I come down to work with this audience, I totally choke," he said. "I have no words. I feel like in those places, words fail. And the only thing we can do is make music and suddenly it’s an embrace that comes with no expectation of return.”
Gupta formed the non-profit Street Symphony to better connect artists with this untapped audience. The program included works by Haydn and Beethoven.
Wednesday's concert was the group's fourteenth on Maple Avenue. Gupta said the first time he visited Skid Row was with his former student Ayers, who was then a resident.
"I was totally appalled and shocked," he recalled. "And I thought, you know, what was the point of being a musician if a place like Skid Row existed? [The] only thing I knew how to do was to make music, so I contacted the social workers on Skid Row and said, 'I want to play concerts.'"
Gupta said he chose May because it's Mental Health Awareness Month but, he added, "it’s our responsibility as artists to open our eyes and do this as often as we can."
The concert gained him at least one fan in the form of Diana Dow.
"I’m homeless, and that is a little stigma," she said. "Even though you have problems you never really want to say that, but this time I said yes, I really do need help."
She said she was first introduced to classical music in her Kentucky grade school, but even now it feels like it "flows through her."
"It takes me away from the situation," she explained. "I’m not out there seeing the chaos that I live around; here, I’m listening to something that soothes my spirit."