YouTube Launches Online Orchestra

YouTube Symphony Orchestra winner

This French-horn player from Australia, whose screen name is zebralthing, will perform in the new YouTube Symphony Orchestra. YouTube hide caption

itoggle caption YouTube

Last December, YouTube, along with a handful of influential classical musicians and organizations, invited musicians worldwide to audition for a spot in the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, the first collaborative online orchestra.

From fiddlers to French-horn players to percussionists, musicians in more than 40 countries submitted their auditions via YouTube. They were required to post two videos: one specifically highlighting their instrumental talent and another performing a piece by composer Tan Dun, written specifically for the project.

"Speaking from my heart, I must say that it was really an interesting window into the lives of all of these music lovers worldwide," says conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, who will lead the YouTube Symphony in New York next month.

"Some of them were clearly auditioning in their dorm rooms," Thomas says. "Some people were obviously playing on pedigreed instruments and others on really banged-up practice instruments. One guy auditioned on an upright piano with no lid, in some back room of a theater. And the guy's a tremendous artist, and he's going to be in the YouTube Symphony."

The winning entrants, announced Monday, include 90 musicians from 30 countries playing 26 different instruments. The 3,000 original submissions were first narrowed down by experts from orchestras worldwide, and then via public online voting. Winners will be flown to New York for a three-day seminar led by Thomas.

"It could be described as something between a summit conference, scout jamboree or musical get-together," Thomas says. "It'll be the first time that people from so many different countries will have had a chance to discover one another online and then actually meet up and try to make some music."

The music they make will culminate in a concert at Carnegie Hall on April 15. YouTube also plans to "mash together" entries of the Tan Dun piece, called Internet Symphony No. 1 'Eroica,' to form a virtual symphony orchestra, performing a single piece.

Detractors view the YouTube Symphony project as little more than a symphonic gimmick, but Thomas says he has high hopes.

"Why does someone from Shanghai or Caracas or Kuala Lumpur or Des Moines really get involved with this music? What does it offer to them? I think more than just the melodies and harmonies," Thomas says. "It offers them a frontier, a world of personal expression. And that's the community I wanted to help connect more — ultimately online, but also through the medium of the YouTube Symphony event in New York."

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