How to Get to Carnegie Hall? Audition on YouTube

From auditions online, YouTube's orchestra readies for Carnegie Hall stage.

April 13, 2009— -- Calvin Lee, a 37-year-old general surgeon from Modesto, Calif., hadn't picked up his violin in 15 years until this winter.

"I only really played very rarely, for weddings, and other events, such as an office Christmas party or medical school Christmas party," he said. "I am very rusty and in the process of getting my skills back."

Lee decided to dust off the cobwebs from his trusty violin when he heard about "YouTube's Symphony Orchestra," a contest to form the world's first complete orchestra through open Internet auditions.

"I saw it as a challenge," he said. "This was a chance to prove to myself and my old surgical friends that I wasn't just imagining things ... I actually could play."

Lee practiced his audition piece, Bach Presto #1 from Sonata in G Minor for two weeks straight before recording and uploading his piece to YouTube. Nearly 3,000 musicians from over 70 countries followed suit, submitting their own video auditions online.

Lee is one of 90 musicians from 30 countries who were chosen by musicians from professional orchestras and voted on by YouTube users to perform with the YouTube orchestra at Carnegie Hall Wednesday.

The ranks of the group include Andy Chester, a lively tuba player from New York, and George Durham, who auditioned with an adapted song by Metallica. One musician will play a birbyne from Lithuania. Another -- a toy piano.

And unlike typical ensembles, they met for the first time Monday morning, just two days before their first performance.

Lee was seduced by the opportunity to connect with others.

"It offers a virtual community where if you were an isolated violinist somewhere, as a kid you can log on and see violinists from all over the world and feel that you're part of this wonderful, large community," he said.

YouTube Orchestra Readies for Carnegie Hall Stage

Another plus is that Michael Tilson Thomas, the famed conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, will wield the baton as the group performs Tan Dun's "Internet Symphony No. 1, Eroica," which was arranged for the event.

"I love the project because of the way it brings different worlds together," Thomas said. "I mean, most obviously, it brings people from all over the world -- every conceivable country -- who somehow have this great passion for classical music."

To prepare for Carnegie Hall, the orchestra members have been sending videos back and forth to each other and getting pointers online. But even YouTube has limits.

"When you think of an orchestra, a beautiful symphony, you think of this group of musicians playing as one, you know, feeding off of each other, feeding off of the conductor, somehow this together, cohesive, organic unit," Thomas said.

Unlike professional groups, the YouTube Symphony gets just three days of rehearsal. "I'm kind of alternating between elation and terror," Thomas said.

Terror aside, Wednesday they'll play to a few thousand spectators in Carnegie Hall and in the infinite audience of the Internet.

"I think it's going to sound wonderful," Thomas said. "I think it's really going to draw attention to the fact that around the entire world, there are so many people that love this musical tradition -- many more, I think, than people imagined that there are."