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The YouTube Symphony at Carnegie Hall: What did the critics think?

April 16, 2009 | 11:40 am

Youtube 

After months of hype and millions of page views -- not to mention mountains of healthy skepticism -- the YouTube Symphony Orchestra made its debut at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night in a concert that promoters were touting as the classical music event of the decade.

Umm, OK. Under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas, the orchestra performed a greatest-hits selection of well-known classical music staples, including pieces by Wagner, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. It also performed a specially commissioned piece by Tan Dun, the appropriately if cheesily titled Internet Symphony No. 1, "Eroica."

Orchestra members were selected via online video auditions. Panelists winnowed the initial pool of applicants to a group of finalists who were then voted on "American Idol"-style by the online public.

YouTube, owned by Google, sponsored the orchestra and has made a big deal of culling musical talent from around the world. Nothing wrong with that, but don't most major orchestras consist of talent from around the world already? We're just saying. ...

So what did the critics think? Keep in mind that New York's classical music reviewers are a finicky bunch -- even more difficult to please than the city's theater critics, which is to say a lot. Still, the early verdicts were all over the map, fitting for such a globally minded endeavor. Read on for a sampling.

MTT Anne Midgette of the Washington Post charged bravely into the breach with her scathing review: "The orchestra sounded ragged, uneven, of wildly different quality. It sounded, in fact, like a lot of different people talking at one another in many different languages -- which is, of course, what it was."

The New York Times' Anthony Tommasini was more generous in his write-up this morning, though he was far from enthusiastic: "The project is worthy, and in ways inspiring. Still, I wish the concert had been less gimmicky and more substantive." Regarding the pervasive use of video clips throughout the concert, he wrote: "There were so many spotlights and projectors in the hall that pianissimo passages in the music had to compete with the whirring sounds of ventilating fans."

Martin Steinberg of the Associated Press was clearly more impressed: "Thomas led the musicians in a remarkable performance. ... Despite the short preparation time, they played like a finely tuned instrument."

Meanwhile, Frank Scheck of the New York Post found himself distracted during the performance by the orchestra's eager fans: "Throughout the evening, ushers fought a losing battle with hordes of audience members wielding every sort of camera imaginable. Despite the frequent warnings, flashes were popping all over the place."

-- David Ng

Photos: The YouTube Symphony Orchestra with composer and DJ Mason Bates, top, and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. Credit: Stefan Cohen.

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