But will they watch the computer from behind a screen?

Sometimes taking advantage of new technologies furthers the mission of the symphony orchestra, making more and more great music and performances available to more and more people. And sometimes… it’s just a gimmick:

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Through YouTube. 
Not that “practice, practice, practice” isn’t still the key to making it to the world’s most famous stage. But a new YouTube Symphony Orchestra project, announced Monday in San Francisco, London and New York, proposes to set culture and technology on a far larger stage: YouTube’s global video platform. The goal is to create a new orchestra with 100 members from around the world, who will come together to perform April 15 at Carnegie Hall.

Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, will conduct at Carnegie.

“YouTube is the biggest stage on Earth, and I want to see what the world’s undiscovered musical geniuses will create on it,” said Chinese-born composer Tan Dun, before appearing at the press conference at Google’s London headquarters…

The San Francisco, New York and London press conferences were held simultaneously Monday and linked via video conferencing. In New York, Tilson Thomas — a leader in new-media discussions and performances of classical music — predicted the new YouTube project would lead audiences into “a larger, expanding world of understanding of classical music.” He sat down at a piano, played a bit of Mozart. And in San Francisco, Chinese pianist Lang Lang joined him, playing the same piece while watching Tilson Thomas on a plasma monitor.

MTT and Lang Lang played the same piece at the same time on the Internet! Isn’t that just flat-out amazing? And on a plasma monitor, yet. It sure wouldn’t have provided the same level of artistry from MTT and LL if it had been one of those old CRT displays.

Things like actually hearing what the candidates sound like will need to take a back seat to what’s really important, though:

In the first phase, the one leading to Carnegie Hall in April, musicians everywhere — whether in the Australian Outback or in Manhattan — are invited to learn Tan Dun’s “Eroica” by downloading their parts from the new orchestra’s YouTube site at http://www.YouTube.com/Symphony.
To compete for a spot, the musicians must videotape their performances and upload the videos to the site. Then a panel of experts from the London Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic and other orchestras will narrow the field to the best participants.

Have the people who thought up this project actually listened to performances on YouTube?  I’ve played in some strange acoustics during my days on the audition circuit, but when I auditioned for a conductor who was simultaneously voiding his bladder, at least the acoustics were flattering (if a little noisy). Generally YouTube sounds like shit.

Some things cannot be improved  by technology, though:

Anyone who watches YouTube can vote for their favorites, though Tilson Thomas has the final say. Ultimately, the winners will be flown in April to a three-day music summit in New York, led by Tilson Thomas and culminating with the Carnegie performance.

Yup; the conductor has complete control over the personnel in front of him at the performance.  As they say in the old country, le plus ca change, le plus le meme chose.

The mighty Internet, like the works of Ozymandias eons ago,  has crumbled before the strongest force in the known universe: a conductor’s ego.


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