YouTube orchestrates cyber symphony with Carnegie Hall aspirations

The Baltimore Sun

If you thought YouTube was just for cheap audio/visual kicks, many of them along the lines of the people-falling-down, pets-going-nutty stuff that turns up on tacky home-video TV shows, think again. This week, an ambitious, very 21st-century project called the YouTube Symphony Orchestra was launched, creating an online community of aspiring musicians.

YouTube and parent company Google put together this cyber ensemble, which has no less than eminent conductor Michael Tilson Thomas as artistic director. Carnegie Hall, the London Symphony Orchestra and stellar pianist Lang Lang are also involved.

Professional and amateur musicians alike are invited to audition for the orchestra by downloading individual parts to a new work written by exceptional composer Tan Dun for the cyber orchestra. To help the player along, there are videos of the composer conducting his colorful, propulsive score, which is inflected with references to Beethoven.

Once prepared, the musician submits a video performance of the individual part. Eventually, a collaborative video of submitted entries will be turned into a kind of communal YouTube performance of the Tan Dun work.

But that's just step one in the project.

The next step involves auditions for a live orchestra that will perform at Carnegie Hall in April, conducted by Tilson Thomas. The player checks out a list of recommended audition pieces for each instrument, chooses what to play and submits a video performance via YouTube.

A panel will determine the best players for the New York concert. Those chosen will have their travel and lodging expenses taken care of; the promoters even promise to secure visas for winners outside the U.S.

It's easy to imagine musicians all over the world trying out for this. And it's easy to imagine future ventures by an online community of musicians of all technical levels, working on music together through increasingly innovative means. Above all, it's great to see YouTube going so classy.

Deadline for entries is Jan. 28. For the full rules, explanations, materials and the chance for a starry night on the stage of Carnegie Hall, go to you

Peabody attractions

Local music lovers know that some of the most interesting and affordable programs can be found nearly every week at the Peabody Conservatory. Those watching their entertainment budgets carefully also know that Peabody events typically represent quite a bargain. I was reminded of all this while glancing at the early December concert calendar.

Today, for example, you can catch a percussion concert by faculty member Robert van Sice and his students. It's at noon, and it's free. And tonight, right after the lighting of the Washington Monument, the Peabody Brass Ensemble will give a free concert of works by Purcell, Verdi and more. Organist and faculty member Donald Sutherland will also be featured in the concert, which is scheduled to start at 7:30.

The Peabody Wind Ensemble, led by Harlan D. Parker, will explore a wide-ranging assortment of works by the likes of Sousa, Copland, Vaughan Williams and Schwantner, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (tickets are $5 to $15). Percussion will be back in the picture at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, when the Peabody Percussion Group offers works by Takemitsu, Xenakis and others in a free concert.

And Edward Polochick will conduct the Peabody Concert Orchestra in a program that balances a venerable war horse, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, with brilliant choral pieces - two of Handel's Coronation Anthems and Bernstein's Chichester Psalms (sung by the Peabody-Hopkins Chorus and Peabody Singers). That's at 8 p.m. next Wednesday (tickets are $5 to $15).

All events are at the Peabody Conservatory, 17 E. Mount Vernon Place. For tickets and more information, call 410-659-8100, ext. 2, or go to www.peabody.

Pressler recital

The issue of change vs. experience has been having quite a political workout lately. I thought of that issue in musical terms Sunday night as Menahem Pressler gave a recital for Candlelight Concerts at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia.

At 85, this exceptional keyboard artist and pedagogue is clearly a voice of experience, and that's what came through most strongly as Pressler delved into weighty sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert and highly coloristic pieces by Debussy. Other players, especially less-seasoned ones, might be more inclined to change things, trying out different tempos or phrasing in an effort to put a firm, personal stamp on the music. Pressler stayed the course, letting the composers speak clearly and straightforwardly, an approach that held substantial rewards.

Technically, the pianist was not always impeccable. The faster, more furious passages of Beethoven's Op. 110 and Schubert's profound B-flat Major Sonata, D. 960, contained various smudges and occasional awkwardness. But the lyrical side of those works emerged beautifully and meaningfully.

The second movement of the Schubert score, in particular, was shaped with an exquisite touch. Pressler, best known for his 53 years as founding pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio, also offered some wonderful tone coloring along the way, especially in the delicate, upper-register reaches in the finale of that Schubert sonata, as well as in the subtly evocative Pagodes and Soiree dans Grenade from Debussy's Estampes.

The Chopin Nocturne that Pressler offered as an encore was sculpted with a magical warmth and poetic sensitivity. Such elegant, deeply authoritative playing reaffirmed the pianist's rare and invaluable artistry.

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