YouTube Announces Auditions for Its Own Symphony Orchestra

Michael Tilson Thomas will conduct the YouTube Symphony Orchestra's live performance at Carnegie Hall in April.
Michael Tilson Thomas will conduct the YouTube Symphony Orchestra's live performance at Carnegie Hall in April. (By Bebeto Matthews -- Associated Press)
By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 2, 2008

NEW YORK, Dec. 1 -- YouTube, one of the most popular and populist media platforms, announced Monday that it is taking its first step toward generating content by launching a symphony orchestra.

The YouTube Symphony Orchestra revolves around two main goals: the creation of a mash-up performance of a symphony from video submissions; and second, a live performance of the same symphony (written for the occasion by composer Tan Dun) at Carnegie Hall on April 15, 2009, with about 150 players selected on the basis of their YouTube video submissions.

In short, YouTube is offering a new twist on the familiar formula of how to get to Carnegie Hall: Practice, practice, upload.

The idea, launched by two YouTube employees at an offsite retreat about a year ago, is being greeted enthusiastically by the classical music world, which Tim Lee, one of the project's initiators, tactfully described as "hungry for innovation."

Classical artists and administrators at the New York news conference Monday visibly basked in the glow of what, in their world, is the equivalent of being noticed by the cool kids at recess. Besides Carnegie Hall, YouTube's partners on the project include Michael Tilson Thomas (who will conduct the Carnegie Hall performance), the London Symphony Orchestra (whose players have already posted 24 master-class videos on the YouTube site) and the pianist Lang Lang.

The pianist, who participated live by video feed from San Francisco, distinguished himself at Monday's news conference by being the only musician present who actually seemed to relate to what YouTube is all about. Lang Lang spoke in practical terms about watching footage of great artists and hearing auditions, rather than resorting to rhetoric about "universal language" and "global outreach."

Interested participants -- who must be older than 14, and not bound by any contractual obligations that would limit the terms of their participation (ruling out most professionals) -- can download the score for "Internet Symphony No. 1: Eroica" at after selecting one of 26 instruments (including a category for "other"). Those who simply wish to participate online can upload their videos of the symphony. Anyone auditioning for the live performance must submit videos of specified excerpts of the standard orchestral repertory by Jan. 28.

Speaking by video feed from London, Tan Dun said his piece attempts to connect "ancient and modern, East and West" with actual quotes ranging from a snippet of Beethoven's "Eroica" to rhythmic footprints of Tchaikovsky to percussion effects that echo the street noise of today's global environment.

That implied collage idea certainly mirrors the phenomenon of YouTube. It remains to be seen, though, whether the spontaneous combustion of the most viral YouTube videos can be replicated or steered through means that are essentially artificial.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company