At 20, his experiences reach far beyond his years

"I was completely infatuated," Robert said.

Breezing through the Suzuki method, he completed in two years what normally takes eight or 10. At the ripe old age of 6, he stunned his parents when he aced an audition for the pre-college program at the Juilliard School in New York City, which became his music lab for the next seven years.

But Vivek Gupta doesn't want people to get the wrong idea. "I hate it when people call him a child prodigy," he said.

His son didn't play like an angel the first time he picked up the violin. It was years of devotion that got Robert where he is, thanks in large part to the sacrifices of Mrs. Gupta. She drove her son to and from schools and music lessons while he did his homework in the car.

Robert performed as a young solo phenom in Israel, India, Europe and Japan. Even Oprah Winfrey had to have him. In school, the cherubic lad skipped a grade because of how advanced he was, but got picked on and occasionally beaten up for being such a young whiz.

"People in high school were like wolves," Robert said, so he doubled up on courses with a tutor and finished his high school graduation requirements two years early. Then, simultaneously, he was a full-time student at the Manhattan School of Music in Harlem and at Mount St. Mary College before transferring to Marist College.

Yeah, I know. It begins sounding like one of those stories where children experience everything in life but childhood. Except that Robert never felt that way.

"I loved every second of it," he said.

When I asked how he could excel as both an artist and a scientist, he leaped at the question as if it were a pizza fresh out of the oven.

"I have a theory," he said, telling me he believes that music training at an early age -- when there are more neurons in the brain -- enhances the band of fibers that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. Get to know Mozart's 4th Violin Concerto, in other words, and Einstein's quantum theory of light might make a little more sense.

You listening, parents? Get the kids some piano lessons.

Robert said that as far back as he could remember, music for him was "exhilaration, joy, complete release." But he also believed that immersing himself in science, history and philosophy would make him a better violinist.

"To be an artist, you have to know something outside your instrument," he said. "You have to be a human."

After collecting his master's from Yale in May, it was time to figure out what to do next. Rather than rush off to medical school or go for an MBA, Robert thought he'd take time to reflect while doing some freelance soloing.

Might as well have told his parents he wanted to work at a car wash.

"His mother wanted him to become a doctor and so did I," said Vivek Gupta, who had always thought music would be something Robert did on the side, to take a break from his real job. "We thought he was wasting his time."

But Robert had developed a mind of his own, and a friend told him the L.A. Phil had openings for two violinists.

Interesting, he thought. He'd counted on a career as a soloist, but believed an orchestral job would be more challenging and useful at this stage of his development. He'd have to interpret the conductor, take a cue from the section leader, work in tandem with his stand partner, and still produce an original sound.

Honestly, though, he figured he had a better chance of jumping off a chair and landing on the moon than getting hired in Los Angeles, which he believes is supplanting New York as the music center with all the buzz. But long odds could work to his advantage, he theorized. It would free him to play without pressure.

"I wanted to not think about the result."


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