This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

A couple of months ago, the Chinese composer, Tan Dun, went on YouTube and invited musicians from all over the world to audition over the Internet to play a symphony of his.

This is what he urged the musicians to do.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TAN DUN: And practice it, and practice it and practice it.

SIEGEL: Practice, practice, practice because, of course, that's how you get to Carnegie Hall. In April at Carnegie Hall, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra will perform Tan Dun's "Internet Symphony No. 1: Eroica."

The orchestra includes violinist Calvin Lee, who is a surgeon from Modesto, California.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Owain Williams of the U.K. on timpani.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: And Lauren Bridgen of Australia on the viola.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: They are among the winners who submitted video auditions. The winners were announced this week, and that makes them members of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. The conductor at Carnegie Hall will be Michael Tilson Thomas, and this is how he describes the group.

Mr. MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS (Artistic Advisor, YouTube Symphony Orchestra): Something between a summit conference or a scout jamboree or musical get-together, whatever it's going to be. But it will 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 and make some music.

SIEGEL: My impression of auditions for symphony orchestras was that they involve terrifying performances before people, live, sometimes with the assist of some beta blockers to cover nerves at that moment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: How much can you really tell about the performance when it's over the Internet as opposed to in person?

Mr. THOMAS: Well, I would say in many cases, it's very clear. I mean, what it does not allow is what can happen in an audition, which is that you might perceive somebody who is a little bit nervous or playing something a little too fast or just maybe with one word of guidance or encouragement can play the same thing in a way that reveals many stronger things.

SIEGEL: You mean, that might happen in a live audition? You might actually say that and have some rapport with the musician?

Mr. THOMAS: That's right. This is like, more like a kind of musical snapshot. Different qualities present themselves. You know, some people have an amazing legato and expression in their playing, and other people have really brilliant abilities to articulate. So we've tried to take all that into consideration, really, in trying to pull together an ensemble of people of different kinds of talents who would have a shot at being able to pull this together in very, very brief time, maybe about two and a half days of rehearsal, which it's a little bit risky but we think nonetheless intriguing.

SIEGEL: Now, I can't let this idea go by without calling to mind a recent event in which tens of millions of Americans watched a wonderful quartet perform at the U.S. Capitol on Inauguration Day or thought they did, only to learn that because of the cold weather, they were actually, in effect, pantomiming the recording they had made a day before. Is it conceivable to you that any of the video auditions you've looked at on the Internet were not exactly what they purport to be?

Mr. THOMAS: I would say that's one of the major things we were looking at, that if the conditions or the nature of the edits seemed too contrived or manipulated, we had, you know, some concerns about that. But really speaking from my heart, I must say that it was really a window into the lives of all of these music lovers worldwide and that some of them were auditioning clearly in their dorm rooms or in their practice rooms. And, you know, some people were playing on obviously pedigreed instruments and others on really banged-up practice instruments. One guy auditioned on a upright piano, kind of with no lid and in some back room of a theater. And by the way, this guy's a tremendous artist. He's going to be in the YouTube Symphony.

So we really were listening and looking at the whole picture and trying to use our imaginations and sensibilities as musicians, and, you know, we've all been in these places ourselves at points in our lives. So we have a lot of empathy for everybody.

SIEGEL: Michael Tilson Thomas, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. THOMAS: Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: Mr. Tilson Thomas is artistic advisor to the YouTube Symphony. He's also artistic director of the New World Symphony and music director of the San Francisco Symphony. He spoke to us from San Francisco.

(Soundbite of music)

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