News

YouTube paves musicians' path to Carnegie Hall

Evan S. Benn
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

MIAMI - Milan Curro auditioned for Carnegie Hall from his bed in Milwaukee, wearing a flannel shirt and blue jeans.

With his digital video recorder rolling, the 19-year-old flute player eloquently performed a minute of Brahms' Symphony No. 4 and uploaded the clip onto the Web. Now Curro is waiting to hear from a Miami Beach maestro on whether he'll be picked to join the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.

"I got so excited at the opportunity that I printed out the music, learned it and recorded it all on the same day," said Curro, a music-education student on leave from Butler University in Indianapolis.

Thousands of musicians from 40 countries submitted audition videos through Wednesday's deadline, and YouTube users will soon have a chance to vote on their favorites to send to New York for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra's April 15 performance.

The man behind the music: Michael Tilson Thomas, who for decades has steered Miami Beach's New World Symphony through the digital age in his role as artistic director. He will conduct the YouTube Symphony's Carnegie Hall show.

"New World has been the pioneering organization in staking out this new territory, because young musicians are naturally interested in these areas," Tilson Thomas said from Los Angeles. "The YouTube project is an extension of that, a way of bringing together the classical-music community all over the world so we can learn from each other."

YouTube parent Google and its musical partners - including the New World Symphony - hope to broaden classical music's appeal to a younger audience through the YouTube Symphony project.

It's working, according to YouTube statistics. More than half of the millions of people who clicked through YouTube.com/Symphony in the past two months were between 13 and 34. (By comparison, about half of the people who attend classical-music events are older than 55, the League of American Orchestras noted.)

Audition videos are posted on the site, organized by instrument. Many of the clips have dozens of comments posted from other users, offering praise for particular playing styles or tips like "raise your bow hand a few inches" for a cellist.

On Curro's videos, commenters ribbed him for resting his sheet music on pillows rather than having a proper music stand. Curro said he realized that his clips may appear amateurish - he filmed them on a camera his girlfriend bought for him for Christmas, while others auditioned in tuxedos and rented fancy concert halls - but he doesn't mind.

"Even if I don't win, I can say I've made pen pals with musicians from Hong Kong and Italy," Curro said. "I think that's amazing."

The collaborative online experience may be new to YouTube users, but the New World Symphony has been interacting digitally for several years.

Using a high-bandwidth, high-definition portal called Internet2, the New World Symphony's young musical fellows post webcasts of their performances and attend "master classes" with conductors worldwide.

The orchestra plans to expand its electronic reach when it moves into its new $200 million hall, designed by Frank Gehry and expected to be open in early 2011.

"We're forming a virtual library, where all the master classes and performances and education work we do will be captured digitally and available in one place online," symphony Chief Executive Officer Howard Herring said.

The South Florida orchestra's innovations received a boost last year from a $5 million grant from the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of the nonprofit's Arts Partnership. The money, Herring said, is going toward investments in Internet2 technology and the virtual library.

Alberto Ibarguen, president and CEO of the foundation, said that letting musicians and audiences interact through a digital medium is "so obvious that it's brilliant."

"Nothing is more important to the success and survival of any art form than to make itself relevant and accessible to new audiences," Ibarguen said. "That's what Michael Tilson Thomas is doing by using new media technology to reach audiences on their preferred platforms at their preferred times."

Voting for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra performers is Feb. 14 to 22, and the selected musicians will be announced March 2.

YouTube will pay for the musicians' visas and plane tickets to New York, but a spokeswoman for the site said she couldn't reveal how many artists will be chosen. The orchestra will play one live performance, but a mash-up of its members' audition videos will live indefinitely on the Web.

There is a chance that some local talent may find its way onstage - Herring said about 15 New World Symphony artists submitted tryout videos. But he denied that they'll get special treatment from judges who screen the videos before the public voting begins. "Certainly not," he said. "That's part of the artistic experience."

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