There is something almost too calculated about the YouTube Symphony Orchestra: a Chinese composer writing music for a Western-style symphony that draws its membership from a global community? But if you can get past the glaring PC-ness of the project, what awaits you is a sweet-natured experiment — albeit a perhaps unnecessary one.
The official web site for the project is frankly cool. A Flash interface guides you through the various sections of the orchestra, allowing you to click on their chairs and learn more about each performer on their individual YouTube channels. And the introductory video is a well-paced, 6-minute compilation of winners saying hello and finding amusing ways to represent themselves and their home countries in a brief span of time.
Drawing together this group of performers, all of whom exhibit some serious skills but whose experience ranges from amateur to professional, is in concept a great idea, a wonderful experiment that will undoubtedly help to build YouTube’s musical community while also highlighting the site’s global reach. And for the musicians chosen by viewer voting, it must be an extraordinarily exciting opportunity.
But, like other events such as YouTube Live, is it ultimately anything more than just a publicity stunt for the company? I enjoy composer Tan Dun’s work (the Symphony channel has favorited a simulation of a full orchestra performing Eroica, the piece he arranged for the auditions), and the musicians selected are adorably gung-ho. But once they’re all playing under the same roof, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra is just an orchestra with an unusual origin story — and no guarantee that the musicians selected will be able to gel together.
The truth is that I am far more interested in watching the promised mash-up video that will debut at the concert April 15 and online April 16. That’s what makes this project part of the online video realm — because as interesting as it is to watch individuals perform, you can’t truly judge a symphony until you hear it as a whole.