Monday, December 1, 2008

Get to Carnegie Hall... via YouTube (?)

Today, the New York Times ran this article on an online project called the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. Marketed by Google, this project will allow instrumentalists from all over the world to audition for this symphony orchestra through videotaping their performances and then uploading them on YouTube, where they will be judged by industry professionals (i.e., members of the New York Philharmonic).

There are two parts of the project. Firstly, Tan Dun, a Chinese composer (most famous for his music to Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), wrote a four-minute orchestral piece. YouTube users can then download the part for their instruments, record themselves performing the parts, and upload their renditions. When all of the entries are judged, the winning videos will be put together for a final YouTube version of the piece.

Secondly, musicians from all over the globe will be able to upload auditions from a prescribed list (orchestral excerpts), and these will be judged by a jury to include members from some of the best orchestras in the world (London Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, etc.) The panel will create a list of finalists and YouTube users, much in the mode of American Idol, will choose the winners who will be flown to Carnegie Hall in April to appear in a concert conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, the music director of the San Francisco Symphony.

Sounds a bit nutty? Well, in the article, Ed Sanders, YouTube's project marketing director, said that “The idea is to put together the world’s first collaborative online orchestra”... “It’s collaboration in a way and a medium never seen, both with sound and video.” Another aim is the “serendipity of discovery... It would be a dream come true to find a trombone player in Hong Kong who had a rare talent, but nobody knew.”

I think this project has an interesting indication in recognizing the legitimacy of YouTube as a source and repository of 'highbrow' art. Also, it is recognizing it as a vehicle of finding undiscovered talent (hopefully). I imagine that critical opinions of this project would point out the undesirable marriage of commerical/corporate interests (Google & YouTube) and classical music (which many think should be kept locked in its ivory tower). I for one am tickled by this idea of the online symphony orchestra because YouTube, for me, is an invaluable source for all of my classical music needs, and then some. I listen to rare recordings of Richter's piano recitals, and I watch the latest episodes of America's Next Top Model... because I can. I hope this project succeeds, it will be interesting to see where it goes. Plus, anything that Michael Tilson Thomas is involved in is always wonderful :)

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