YouTube Symphony–Year Two Coming

Here’s an article that appeared in the Entertainment section of the Los Angeles Times last week. The author says she is cynical and that is apparent, but I’m even more cynical about the article itself.  It’s definitely representative of “old school” thinking.  See if you agree.

Culture Monster

All the Arts, All the Time

The YouTube Symphony Orchestra is back for a second year — but why?

October 13, 2010 |  1:39 pm

We’re not really sure why, but it’s back.  The YouTube Symphony Orchestra is having another go, this time in Sydney, Australia.  The general idea is the same as last year — post a video of yourself playing the set audition and maybe you’ll get selected to perform with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas at the Sydney Opera House.

We love the idea of people getting together to play music, meet colleagues from different countries and have a great time. This is why there are summer camps, study abroad programs or chamber music salons.

What sends our cynicism meter flying into the red zone (our heart is black so yours doesn’t have to be) is what appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding of how orchestras actually work.  Even worse, there are too many people involved that know better for it to be a nonspecialist marketing mishap.

.  .  .  “fundamental misunderstanding of how orchestras actually work”? In my mind that’s not the idea or purpose of the YouTube Symphony.  It isn’t trying to replicate the prevailing orchestra model.  Thank God.  That one is barely breathing in many cities.  It seems to me to be about bringing musicians with diverse backgrounds from around the world together through the use of technology, and then having a performance in a really cool venue that most of the participants will only dream about playing in.

Here are a few snippets from the press release announcing YSO 2011.

— “YouTube opens online auditions for a second global collaborative orchestra”

Except for the online part, none of this is news.  Almost all orchestras are global in their makeup and, unless they really hate the conductor, are made up of people who collaborate artistically for a living.

The Youtube Symphony “aims to use the inherent democracy of the Internet to offer musicians around the world — whether professional, aspiring, or retired — an opportunity to play at Sydney Opera House.”

Everyone already has a chance to play at the Sydney Opera House. When the opera orchestra has an opening, anyone is free to make an application and turn up to the audition.

Sure—and anyone can buy a Mercedes too.  All you have to do is show up at the showroom and plunk down $75K.

An applicant’s chances of securing the position improve if he or she has put in the roughly 10,000 hours of practice required but it is not strictly necessary. Neither is going to Julliard or owning a $500,000 instrument.
— “Last year we helped fundamentally challenge the norms of an entire industry, and provided a digital meeting place for classical musicians right around the world.”

— Ed Sanders, Youtube Senior Marketing Manager

We would welcome examples to the contrary here but no news of a fundamental change has reached Culture Monster’s ears.  Orchestras still audition in person, often with a screen and as far as the digital meeting place goes….well there are already hundreds of classical music blogs, dedicated social networking sites and message boards as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Underneath all this indignation we think flying to Sydney to play music with some Internet peeps sounds like a pile of fun.  Just because it isn’t a change-the-world idea doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.  While we look forward to watching the audition videos and hearing how the whole project develops over the next few months, we would like it much more if YSO staffers would send hyperbole on a long walk in the Outback.

— Marcia Adair

Here’s what else the author missed.  Just the effort to do something like this helps take the orchestra out of the stuffy, old foggie, we’re sophisticated and you’re not, white tie and tails image.  It appeals to the younger generation of musicians.  It’s great PR.  It uses technology and if you believe that orchestras will be around in 100 years, but the delivery of their product will be changed you can imagine the YouTube Symphony as a baby step in this direction.  Remember, the space flight of today doesn’t look anything like the first flight of the Wright Brothers.  I say bravo to MTT and the organizers of the YouTube Symphony.  At least they are pro-active and trying something.  For right now I think this Sydney Opera House concert is about the journey and not the destination.

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Ramon Ricker

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