NEW YORK: Even before they played their first note together, they were listed as one of the world's most inspiring orchestras.
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 made its much-anticipated debut on Wednesday night at New York's Carnegie Hall.
Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas (center) shakes hads with musicians in the YouTube Symphony Orchestra during a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York on Wednesday. It is the first orchestra to be selected entirely through auditions online. [Agencies]
In the four months since the project was announced, more than 3,000 videos submitted by amateur and professional musicians from 70-plus countries were auditioned.
Voters among the 15 million viewers of http://www.YouTube.com/Symphony selected the 93 winners, who ranged from ages 15 to 55 and included a surgeon-violinist and a professional poker player-cellist.
"We're meeting a lot of different worlds," conductor Michael Tilson Thomas told the audience before the first downbeat, "the real time world, the online world and the experience of getting acquainted. For us it's been something between a classical music summit conference (and) scout jamboree combined with speed dating."
Only last month, the prestigious British magazine Gramophone placed the group among the 10 most inspiring orchestras, praising it "for democratizing classical music on a global scale, making it truly all-inclusive".
"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.
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, Thomas led the musicians in a remarkable performance.
In between these immortal pillars, the orchestra played a wide assortment of works, including pieces by Lou Harrison, Heitor Villa-Lobos, John Cage and the world premiere of Tan Dun's Internet Symphony No. 1, Eroica.
Despite the short preparation time, they played like a finely tuned instrument. For example, the string players' bows moved in synch and flew through the air at rousing conclusions.
The musicians, who come from more than 30 countries, 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 and former principal violist with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
"Every rehearsal, it's just gotten better and better," Diaz said. "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.
One of the many high points was Tan's 4-minute "symphony", a high-octane work conducted by the composer who packed it with hammer whacks on hanging tire hubs, a cinematic melody and references to Beethoven's Eroica.
The show was nearly stolen by three youngsters mentored by the pianist Lang Lang - 8-year-old Charlie Liu of Plainsboro Township, New Jersey; 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.