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YouTube Symphony Orchestra’s overwhelming success

The one-of-a-kind YouTube Symphony Orchestra gave its simultaneous debut and farewell (until further notice) on April 15 at the one-of-a-kind Carnegie Hall, with Artistic Advisor and Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas on the podium, and before an enthusiastic, sold-out audience. News coverage – online, in print, and on TV and radio – went around the world in the weeks and days before the concert, which was the brainchild of young staff members at YouTube’s parent, Google, and which was brought to Carnegie Hall and the world stage by a battery of talented people from more than 30 countries.

The unique program featured musical selections ranging from a 16th-century Venetian Canzon by Giovanni Gabrieli – played by two choirs of brasses bracing the stage from first-tier boxes – to two world premieres: Internet Symphony No. 1, “Eroica”, composed for the occasion and conducted by Tan Dun, and Mason Bates’s Warehouse Medicine from The B-Sides, for computer and full orchestra. And the orchestra WAS full – 96 players from 30 countries, all of whom earned their places on the Carnegie Hall stage by uploading their auditions to a dedicated page on Google’s gigantic website. A jury of experts selected the finalists, and fans helped decide the winners by voting for their favorites from the auditions posted on YouTube.

Media from around the world converged upon the venerable New York concert hall, and many have already posted reports and reviews. The chief music critic of the hometown New York Times, posting at 2:30 in the morning, wrote:

“After all the buzz about the YouTube Symphony Orchestra … after months of interactive computer chat … after 96 winning players were selected … and were brought to New York for a group summit and Carnegie Hall concert, how did the YouTube Symphony Orchestra finally play?

“Quite well, actually … With the chosen musicians coming from more than 30 different countries and vastly different backgrounds, the program needed to touch as many eras and styles as possible. … The idea … was to bring together musicians from outside the professional orchestra loop, and at that the project was a breakthrough, or so it seemed from the video interviews with several of the players that were shown … . After all the spoken and video tributes to YouTube and Google, you can only hope that this project becomes permanent.”

The Associated Press also chimed in early, with:

“From the joyous third movement of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, which opened the concert, to the fiery crashes of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony at the end, Thomas led the musicians in a remarkable performance.

“In between these immortal pillars, the orchestra played a wide assortment of works, including challenging pieces by Lou Harrison, Heitor Villa-Lobos, John Cage, and the world premiere of Tan Dun’s Internet Symphony No. 1, ‘Eroica’.

“Despite the short preparation time, they played like a finely tuned instrument.”

A critic from ConcertoNet, the France-based international classical music website, got right into the spirit of the occasion:

“Mr. Thomas is the model of the energetic conductor, and the orchestra reacted to him well, playing with velocity, accuracy … . They played as one ensemble … . Most of the pieces were either emphasizing a consort … or accompanying a world-class soloist. And in this, they succeeded beyond any criticism. In a way, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra is simply a 21st-century version of the Asian Youth Orchestra or the European Youth Orchestra … . But YouTube actually circumnavigated the globe (though no African or Middle Eastern players were in the orchestra). Even more important, the ensemble had – or has – the funds to make the concert into a cerebral party. Not with balloons, games, and songs. But with the most fascinating art, electronic legerdemain, endless talent, and the totally transformed architecture of the world’s most distinguished concert hall.”

An enjoyable virtual “concert” experience that YouTube titles “The Internet Symphony Global Mashup” is the synchronized performance of Tan Dun’s Internet Symphony as uploaded by the winning auditioners. It’s had nearly half a million hits in 24 hours.

A news search at Google brings up preview items, pictures, and reviews from sources as far-flung as Al-Jazeera and Sky News Australia, but music lovers around the world can relive the first hour of the Carnegie Hall experience for themselves as often as they choose, without going further than YouTube:

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– April 17, 2009

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