I just got back from playing in Carnegie Hall with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra and wanted to share my experience playing in this incredible project.
The project was conceived by two brilliant guys who proposed to Google to use YouTube in order to bring classical musicians together. Google loved the idea and soon collaborated with Michael Tilson Thomas, Tan Dun, and Carnegie Hall. A site was then put up on YouTube encouraging musicians of all nationalities and ages to upload two videos of themselves playing. Over 3,000 videos were submitted. After an intense period of selection and judging, 96 musicians from over 30 countries were invited to come to New York to play in Carnegie Hall as part of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. I was lucky enough to be selected and this is my account of my time leading up to the concert in New York.
After I was informed that I was going to play with the YouTube Symphony in New York, there began a slew of correspondence between the winners. The YouTube Symphony staff set up a Google group and thus we began corresponding with each other. It was really thrilling to start meeting my fellow orchestra players via email. We shared our excitement, our questions, but mostly we used the time before coming to New York to introduce ourselves. It was evident from the start how diverse we all were! Everyone was truly from all over the world and had their own story. Not everyone was playing professionally, and yet it was clear that a passion for music was shared by all of us.
On April 3rd, I flew to California to be with my family for the Jewish holidays. When I was there, I got a call from a certain Stephen Higgins who said that he really liked my introduction video for the YouTube Symphony and wanted to film me for the documentary he was making about the project. I was thrilled! And so, a film crew came to my grandparents’ house and filmed me playing for about 5 hours. It was so exciting, as I’ve never been filmed for a movie before. YouTube’s marketing director, Chris Di Cesare, interviewed me, which was a lot of fun as Chris and I got along so well. It was really at this point that my experience with the YouTube Symphony was becoming a reality. A few days after the shoot, I was off to the San Francisco airport with my cello, headed to New York City.
I arrived in New York on Sunday April 12th, at the Le Parker Meridian Hotel. I was surprised to hear that I had a room all to myself, as I was assuming I would share with 4 other people. But this quickly revealed that Google was really doing us up. Dropping off my bags (and feeling exhausted from 2 previous nights of no sleep, due to excitement), I headed off to the penthouse for the welcome dinner. After I was given my bag of “goodies,” (YouTube Symphony stickers, an external hard drive, some spending money, a schedule, and even some hand sanitizer!), I entered a room which was swarming with people and camera men. It was uncanny how many people I recognized immediately, just from watching their videos online. I felt as if I knew everyone already. No time passed and I was striking up conversation with David from Bermuda, with George whom I played in youth orchestra about 12 years ago!, with Celso from Spain, and many more. I felt so comfortable among all these wonderful musicians. Plus, I could use all my languages! My English, Spanish, French, and Hebrew were very handy as I could communicate with virtually everyone in the orchestra.
After eating a wonderful meal and hearing speeches from Michael Tilson Thomas, Tan Dun, and Ed Sanders, I headed off to a short string rehearsal with the marvelous Gil Shaham. Though I was dead tired, it was wonderful being in the presence of Gil, who exuded a positive attitude and playfulness. And since I wanted to take advantage of every moment, off I went with the Italians, Spanish, and Latin Americans for a walk down to Rockefeller Center. Back in the hotel, exhausted, I tried to sleep, but the excitement of the coming days was just too much to bear. Having barely slept, I awoke the next morning gearing up for the 9 hours of rehearsals that were awaiting.
Having been bussed to Julliard, we all enjoyed a nice breakfast and took advantage of the time in order to keep meeting each other. We really didn’t have that much time to socialize, so these non-rehearsal times were precious. At 10:00am, we began our first rehearsal with Michael Tilson Thomas. The rehearsal room was packed not only by us, but an incredible number of press teams. There were cameras everywhere, the press wanting to catch every moment. For me, it was at that moment that it started dawning on me that this project was a very big deal. I mean, it seemed that every news team from all parts of the world were there to film the event. You can imagine how overwhelming it all was. As we prepared to play the first note from the 4th Movement of Tchaikovsky’s 4th symphony, I think everyone in the room was awaiting the moment of truth. Was this experiment going to work? Were these musicians who had never played together going to sound good? Did it pay off to send the musicians the sheet music via email and present them videos instructing them how to play the music? With so many different languages being spoken, how would they understand each other?
We played the first few bars and the question was answered. The experiment worked. We played wonderfully together and it sounded great! Everyone had come well prepared and we spent the next 3 hours working very intensely on the big program that we would play in just 3 days. Michael Tilson Thomas (or MTT) was so efficient and positive. In addition to him, there were mentors who were helping the orchestra put together this program. Since there was hardly time to put it all together, we could use all the help. Thus, it was great sitting there, implementing MTT’s comments, as well as the mentors from major orchestras, just trying to absorb it all. After rehearsal, we headed to lunch. I barely had time to eat as there was press who pulled me aside wanting to interview me. All throughout the summit, I spoke with press from all over the world. It was so exciting! That day, we had another two 3-hour rehearsals. At the end of the day, I was simply dying from exhaustion. I headed to my room hoping to sleep, but of course I was just too wired to sleep well. I did rest somewhat and awoke the next day ready for another intense day.
Tuesday began for me with a press conference, to which I was invited to be part of. Important people from Google as well as MTT and Tan Dun spoke about the project. I especially appreciated what Clive Gillinson, Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall, said. He spoke about how today the level of playing has really reached the top of the pyramid. But now we must turn that pyramid upside down in order to create new opportunities and to lead classical music in a new direction. Using the Internet is really one of the ways this will happen.
After the press conference, I headed to a string rehearsal, then lunch, then a general rehearsal. I should say that whether we were at rehearsal or not, the press were ever present, filming our every move. I found it quite thrilling. After the afternoon rehearsal, we went to the restaurant Rue 57 for a wonderful dinner. There we really relaxed and were able to socialize. It was incredible how even though only about 2 days passed, I felt that I already knew so many people in the orchestra and had already made good friends. After dinner we headed to dress rehearsal in Carnegie Hall. One important element of that rehearsal was for all the visuals to be practiced. There was going to be a lot of images and videos that would be screened during the concert, and thus the rehearsal was crucial in order to try it all out in the hall. That rehearsal conveyed to all of us that it was really going to be a special and unforgettable concert.
That night a special event was organized for us at the club Le Poisson Rouge. An Open Mic event was set up for any musician who wanted to play in a more informal environment. Thus, a big group of us headed in a bus to the club. It was a wonderful evening! I played tangos with Titus from Romania, and Manuel (Mexico) and Tino (Italy) played. The three Spaniards played. It was just great.
Wednesday was the big day! We all headed to breakfast at Carnegie Hall and had another dress rehearsal in the hall. After lunch, I think most everybody went to sleep, gearing up for the concert. We met up for dinner at Carnegie Hall and then got ready backstage. I had a lot of fun filming people before the concert began, capturing the excitement. It seemed at that point that we had been playing together forever and that we had come to the end of a long tour together.
At 7:30, we started walking on stage. The audience went wild. There was so much applause, and we hadn’t even played one note. I tried to take it all in as I was sitting waiting for MTT to come on stage. I just took a moment to really let it all sink in. Then MTT walked on and gave a wonderful speech, that included, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Upload, upload, upload!” After he spoke, an introductory film was screened. Before I realized it, there I was, opening the video, playing in my grandparents’ house! I was so touched and speechless. It was just too much. The video showed the process of the selection and ended again with my playing. I was so moved that it was hard to imagine that this was only the beginning of the concert!
As soon as the video was over, we delved into our ambitious program, covering about 800 years of classical music styles. I didn’t feel nervous playing; I was just having the time of my life. During the concert, videos were shown featuring people in the orchestra, as well as graphics that were being screened onto the walls of the hall. It was definitely a multimedia kind of concert. As we played our last note of the program, the audience rose and applauded to no end. No doubt, it was the best concert that I have ever played in.
After the concert was over, we all headed again to Le Poisson Rouge where we partied until the early hours of the next day. On Thursday we all sadly had to say goodbye. But, thankfully, in this age of communication, it was clear that we would stay in touch using email, Facebook, YouTube, and any other possible Internet site!
It really felt like a beginning of a project, and I feel confident that I will see my fellow YouTube Symphony-ers again. I am sure that the project is the first of many. Not only that, I hope that meeting all these wonderful musicians will open up concert opportunities in many places around the world.
I think this project also has clued me in as to how imperative it is for classical musicians to use the Internet in order to bring in new audiences. It is a tool that must be used. Initially, I was so nervous to put my playing on display on the Internet, but after having such a positive experience, I was excited to post a lot of videos of myself playing. I think it will be a very important factor in my career.
I hope you enjoyed my account. I have tried to be articulate, but the truth is that this project was so tremendous that it is hard to properly describe it. Thankfully, there was so much press documenting the project, that now you can just see it for yourself!
So here is a list of where you can see footage of the project:
By far the most comprehensive about the project. Here you will find the video of the entire concert (split up in Act One and Two). You can also see the Official YouTube Symphony Orchestra Opening Video (where I play in the beginning). There are also “vlogs,” which are videos taken by people in the orchestra during their time in New York. You can also check out the video from the Open Mic on Tuesday night.
Here are a few articles:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U80Zbuq-4iE&feature=channel_page (I’m interviewed in the this one, in Spanish!)
http://www.comcast.net/video/youtubes-symphony/1092365005/fanNews/newest/ (several videos here)
On the radio:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/arts/2009/03/000000_strand_friday.shtml (it starts at the 11th minute, I’m interviewed)