SF Director Leads YouTube Symphony at Carnegie

Michael Tilson Thomas leads new age orchestra

The YouTube Symphony got to Carnegie Hall.

With 21st-century multimedia pizazz, the Web site's first orchestra dazzled the audience in the 118-year-old concert hall in its debut concert. The symphony is led by the director of the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas.

As the orchestra played, musical notes literally streamed from the walls and moved along the cavernous ceiling. Some of the projections seemed to hang vertically as they emanated from the stage and over the audience. It was as if the producers were saying: "Classical music is fun, too, and it's going to capture you."

YouTube Symphony Performs at Carnegie

And yes, there was also the music Wednesday night. Lots of it. And lots of variety -- from Baroque to techno.

Part publicity stunt by its producers, part vanity trip by its participants, part opportunity to attract a younger crowd to classical music, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra gathered 93 musicians from more than 30 countries.

Ranging in age from 15 to 55, the players included a surgeon-violinist and a professional poker player-cellist. The roster was selected by voters from among the 15 million viewers of http://www.YouTube.com/Symphony since the project was announced four months ago.

The interest has left the classical establishment in awe.

"It's turned classical music into something everybody's talking about. Huge numbers are engaging, thinking about and also understanding it could be something for them," Carnegie Hall Executive Director Clive Gillinson said in an interview.

Even before the ensemble played its first note, the prestigious British magazine Gramophone placed the group among the world's most inspiring orchestras, praising it "for democratising classical music on a global scale, making it truly all-inclusive."

But could the group play together in a live performance, with only a few days of rehearsals, and at one of the world's leading music auditoriums?

"Playing at Carnegie Hall is such a thrill to me," 36-year-old flutist Nina Perlove of Cincinnati said before the performance. "I actually didn't think I'd be so moved because I'm a professional musician and I've played in nice concert halls before. But when we walked out on stage for the first time and I looked out, I got kind of watery. I was thinking about my grandfather who loved New York and was a musician and how he would be so moved."

From the joyous third movement of Brahms' Fourth Symphony, which opened the concert to the fiery crashes of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony at the end, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas led the musicians in a remarkable performance.

In between these immortal pillars, the orchestra played a wide assortment of works, including a brass ensemble standing at opposite ends of the balcony playing a 16th-century work and vanguard pieces by Lou Harrison and John Cage.

Despite the short preparation time, they played like a finely tuned instrument. For example, the string players' bows moved in sync and flew through the air at rousing conclusions.

The musicians arrived in New York on Sunday. During rehearsals, they were coached by leading orchestral musicians, including Roberto Diaz, president of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and former principal violist with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

"It was a very talented group of individuals," Diaz said in an interview. "Every rehearsal, it's just gotten better and better, and they've gotten this sense of group rhythm, which is a fundamental part of it all. ... To do that in 48 hours is amazing."

The Internet generation of performers attracted a youthful crowd that had no reason to feel shy. The staid decorum was suspended for the three-hour concert, which featured 15 short pieces. Thomas sat on the podium at one point, watching pianist Yuja Wang fly through the "Flight of the Bumble Bee." In another departure from tradition, the audience was encouraged to bring video cameras.

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One of the many high points was the world premiere of Tan Dun's 4½ minute "Internet Symphony No. 1, Eroica." The Oscar-winning composer conducted the high-octane piece that's packed with hammer whacks on hanging tire hubs, a cinematic melody and references to Beethoven's "Eroica."

Other outstanding performances were given by soloists Joshua Roman on cello, violinist and guest star Gil Shaham, soprano Measha Brueggergosman (singing the gibberish lyrics in Cage's bizarre "Aria With Renga") and Mason Bates playing the Apple computer synthesizer in his thumping electronic "Warehouse Medicine From B-Sides."

The show was nearly stolen by three youngsters mentored by pianist Lang Lang -- 8-year-old Charlie Liu of Plainsboro Township, N.J.; Anna Larsen, also 8; and fellow Boston resident Derek Wang, 10. They plopped down on a bench and played a six-hand waltz by Rachmaninoff without a hitch, then took their bows to the audience's delight.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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