Friday, December 05, 2008

YouTube Symphony

I found out about the YouTube Symphony on Monday via the NY Times story; a press release about it dropped into my mail box a couple of hours later. If you missed the story (or Joshua Kosman's Chron story, or Janos Gereben's SFCV Music News item), here's how it works:

1. The composer Tan Dun has written a new work, his Symphony No. 1, "Eroica." (Yes, you're reading that correctly. More below.)
2. The parts are available as PDFs. You can find them on the YouTube Symphony site.
3. There is video of Tan conducting.
4. You download the part you'd like to play; you practice and then record a video of yourself playing the part. You're supposed to watch the conductor video so that you're keeping the proper tempos.
5. You submit the video to YouTube.
6. From these videos, a panel of experts will select the best and create a mashup to post on YouTube.
7. You can also submit a video of yourself playing a solo work for your instrument. You can find suggested works here (link to follow).
8. A panel of experts will select finalists. (London Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and other leading orchestras around the world will narrow the field of entries down to the semifinalists.)
9. The "YouTube comunity" will then decide who will be part of an orchestra that will perform at Carnegie Hall next year, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. Google/YouTube will pay the winners' ways to New York City. The concert is part of a three-day workshop with Thomas.

It's a novel way to get to Carnegie Hall. I am not a big fan of Tan Dun's, based on the mess that was The First Emperor, but was curious about the new piece, especially since he had the nerve to call it "Eroica." So I downloaded and examined the first flute part. It's not especially difficult; even my decades-out-of-practice flute chops are sufficient to play it. And, yes, it incorporates themes from Beethoven's huge, genre-changing Symphony No. 3, subtitled "Eroica." With a couple of weeks' practice...well, as I contemplated the logistics of creating and submitting the video, it dawned on me that I'd better look at the contest rules. Sure enough, if you work for one of the Competition Entities or its parent or subsidiary company, you are ineligible to enter. So I'm out as a possible participant. Whew! I don't have to get the Hindemith flute sonata, which I learned in the 10th grade, back in shape after all.

A couple of bloggers have already written about this thing:
  • Matthew Guerrieri is amused.
  • Amanda Ameer at Life's a Pitch says "it's not a bad thing" and tells you why.
  • Greg Sandow thinks it's typical of the way bottom-up initiatives can change classical music. "This exists only because a couple of people at Google thought of it!" He calls it "auditioning for orchestra projects on line;" I note that this is one particular project. He also says "pitched it to the rest of the company." Really? I heard about this in the New York Times.
Let me point out a couple of things in response to Greg:
  • Anybody could have thought up and executed the YouTube video mashup, with any piece they chose - or wrote.
  • Tan Dun, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Carnegie Hall are involved only because of Google's enormous influence and, you know, money. The commission cost something (and from his position as an orchestral consultant, Greg can come closer to guessing how much than I can), bringing a couple of hundred people to New York City will cost something, renting Carnegie costs something, presumably MTT is getting a fee, etc., etc.
  • Of course, Tan Dun and MTT's prestige was involved in getting the musical institutions involved. It's a long, long list, which I've taken from the press release and will put at the end of this posting.
  • Every institution involved expects to get something out of it, at a minimum, publicity.
Looking a bit beyond these issues, I'm extremely curious about who will enter. Talented amateurs, yes. Kids, yes. Anyone wanting to have a good time - yes, because you can enter playing any damn instrument you choose, whether it's part of the official scoring or not. (I really like that aspect of the project!)

But what about aspiring pros? Are we going to get conservatory students entering? Freelancers? What would happen if you're a violinist, you win a spot in the Carnegie Hall program, and you find yourself auditioning for the BSO next year? Will your resume say "Member of the YouTube Symphony Carnegie Hall concert"?

And who will gain what from this venture? Well, there will be a lot of publicity for MTT and Tan Dun, for that long list of orchestras that's involved, for Carnegie Hall, and, of course, for Google and YouTube. Very likely a lot of curious people who are not classical music enthusiasts will be pulled in by the spectacle. I happen to like the spectacular aspects of classical music, in the form of gigantic messy works, especially stage works (Mahler's 8th, Wagner's Ring, Bantock's Omar Khayyam, to name a few), and in the form of crazy virtuoso performers. Really, the only thing missing from this piece seems to be Lang Lang. Maybe there's a piano part? On the other hand, will this apparent one-shot deal get people away from their computers and into the concert hall?

I would think not - so I'm going to suggest that the long list of participating musical organizations throw in a whole bunch of tickets to their concerts, and give 'em away at random to the entrants.

Selected list of program partners as of December 1, 2008, from the press release:

Amsterdam Music School
Arnhem Music School
Bamberger Symphoniker
Bangalore Music Association
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Carnegie Hall
Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
Conservatorio Real
Valery Gergiev
The Hague Music School
Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
Imma Shara
Lang Lang
Liceu Barcelona
London Symphony Orchestra
Moscow Conservatory
National Music Conservatory
New World Symphony
New York Philharmonic
Orchesta de Galicia
Orchestra Filarmonica
Orchestre de Paris
Orquesta Nacional
Petersburg Conservatory
Prague Philharmonica
Radio France
Rotterdam Philharmonic
San Francisco Symphony
Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra
Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Taipei Philharmonic Orchestra
Tan Dun
Michael Tilson Thomas
William Joseph International Academy
Yale School of Music


Elaine Fine said...

Great post Lisa. Far better articulated than the one that I deleted. But we do share the same impressions of the project.

I pity the people who will be listening to the auditions--having to choose a wind section, for example, from submissions by thousands of students who believe that their future in music might be through cyberspace.

For my (very small amount of money), I would prefer to use publicity and prestige to improve the musical education out in the non-glittery world of the provinces (like where I live), and to encourage audiences for live performances of good and varied music outside from the major cities of the world.

I feel that YouTube helps do that by making it easy for musicians to broadcast performances from their remote locations. It becomes a window to the world for me. This kind of thing becomes a kind of reverse telescope. 100 people will be flown into New York at YouTube/Google's expense and be made a fuss over. What does that do for the future of music? Very little.

Anonymous said...

Will your resume say "Member of the YouTube Symphony Carnegie Hall concert"?

I don't see why it shouldn't. If this comes off, with enough entrants, it should be quite an audition process.

Anonymous said...

his Symphony No. 1

Pedant says:

1) It's not his Symphony No. 1. He's written at least one orchestral work with the Symphony title before now.

2) Even if it were, you don't call it Symphony No. 1 until you've also written Symphony No. 2.

Anonymous said...

As Robert Levine has pointed out over at Abu Bratsche, it's not really an audition process since MTT selects who appears onstage and it looks to be far less fair than any standard orchestra audition. I certainly can't imagine any existing professional orchestra using this as a credential to avoid sending in an pre-audition recording, etc.

Great piece Lisa, I'm linking over here in tomorrow's blog post!


Lisa Hirsch said...

David, I need to check the part I looked at again to see if I got the name of the work wrong.

As far as putting this on your resume goes, I can't see why an orchestra would take it very seriously, considering how many of the auditors are "members of the YouTube community," that is, amateurs.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Elaine, belatedly, I think you are right on, and in the postings on your blog as well.

Anonymous said...

I knot this is WAY late, but just found blog; in reality a marketing team culled through the entrants; nonmusicians; to find most obviously a younget group that ytube markets to; then musician judges reviewed that. If you look at the demographics; majority were 25 or under in appearance. Also MTT's NWSymph players were given opportunity, and video to enter at last moment. Of course they won some spots even though the playing was not always the best. In end the concert sounded more like a youth symphony...if you cannot count properly on audition you are not going to learn in one weekend. MTT commmented then it was not meant for those in "professional loop" even though rules did not say that. Videos that broke rules yet won were rampant...longer thatn 10 minutes, accompanied, wronf works or incomplete works performed. A letter was consrtucted and sent to sponsoring parties concerning how this wae not as per rules an discrimitory; none of them responded. The letter was sent to musician's union. I think this died a rightful death. Only problem a lot of young people learned they could break rules and win!

Lisa Hirsch said...

That's all very interesting, so thank you! You sound like an insider, so I understand the anonymity. :)