For the Next Generation, Classical Music is a Click Away

Volume CIX, No. 5May, 2009

Mikael Elsila

Tan Dun composed the “YouTube Symphony.” Photo by Nan Watanbe.

What’s one way to get the next generation excited about classical music? Put it on YouTube. The popular video site just completed its YouTube Symphony project, which let musicians upload videos of themselves performing, for the chance to win a trip to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall.

To compete, musicians had to create two audition videos: one of a standard repertoire piece and one of the “YouTube Symphony,” a new work by composer Tan Dun, who wrote the music for the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Musicians then uploaded their videos to

That site also contained videos of master classes and audition tips by world-class musicians. Auditioners could even play along with their parts using a special practice video available on the site.

Those audition videos that passed the first cut were then forwarded to panels of professional musicians, including Local 802 member Ken Mirkin, violist in the New York Philharmonic, who volunteered his time for the project.

“This project can only be a good thing for raising classical music’s profile around the world,” Mirkin told Allegro.

The next round of cuts was made by the general public. Visitors to the site were able to vote thumbs-up or thumbs-down on each audition video.

The final round was judged by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, the music director of the San Francisco Symphony, who selected the ultimate composition of the orchestra.

The winners were flown out to New York to perform the “YouTube Symphony” on April 14 at Carnegie Hall.

In addition to live performance, the event also featured a collage of many videos submitted by auditioners.

Jaded musicians might say that the whole project was just an “American Idol” style amateur event, where newbies play for free while giving YouTube free publicity. This could be true.

On the other hand, at a time when classical audiences are dwindling, a stunt like this could bring some much-needed oomph to classical music’s cachet.

“We see a great symbiotic relationship with this project,” New York Philharmonic spokesman Eric Latzky told the New York Times, “and we see great potential to inspire a kind of new worldwide interest and enthusiasm for classical music.” 

See for videos and recaps of the project.