Say you’re a piccolo player from Kazakhstan, or a bassoonist from Staten Island. A professional career in music seems like a long shot, and Carnegie Hall might as well be on another planet. Enter YouTube. The video-sharing Website has launched the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, an online global auditioning process for a non-virtual orchestra, which will play actual music on a physical stage.
YouTube commissioned a five-minute symphony from Tan Dun, the Oscar-winning, Chinese-born New Yorker and global composer par excellence, who led the London Symphony Orchestra in a performance that YouTube shot and posted at youtube.com/symphony. Now musicians everywhere can download the sheet music, practice playing the piece to a silent video of the composer conducting, and upload videos of their own performances. Entries will be judged, American Idol style, by a combination of experts and online vote. Winners get a free trip to New York and a chance to play the first “Internet Symphony” at, yes, Carnegie Hall, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting.
The project has the feel of a test run: Tan Dun’s tiny symphony is a mash-up of Beethoven motifs, Stravinsky rhythms, and Gershwin’s urban jangle, and while the resulting flood of video clips will be stitched together somehow, the endpoint is a conventional concert, not some digital extravaganza. Or maybe that’s just the first step. Judging from the musical talent that turned out for Monday’s presentation, including Metropolitan Opera stars Anna Netrebko and Susan Graham, members of the Emerson String Quartet, and (by video hookup from San Francisco) the pianist Lang Lang, we suspect the project’s next iteration is already in development. Classical musicians want a bigger online stage, a planetful of amateur players want a path to success, and now there’s YouTube to make the introductions.