Correction Appended: An earlier version of this article mistakenly said Huberth was accepted into the YouTube Symphony Orchestra last month.
With a matter of clicks, visitors to YouTube are sucked into a terrifying vortex of finger-biting babies, auto-tuned politicians, scooter-riding dogs and hip-shaking gummy bears. Yet in the midst of this ever-changing hurricane of viral videos, Internet surfers can find relief in a beacon of high culture that shines steadily in the cyber ocean: the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. This week, musicians from across the globe — including University cellist Madeline Huberth — will gather at the Sydney Opera House to perform as part of the 2011 YouTube Symphony Orchestra.
Conceived in 2008, the ensemble combines elements of a traditional orchestra with the interactive quality and international scope of YouTube. Instead of a traditional orchestral audition, members upload a video of themselves playing two pieces. After a panel of judges narrows the contestants to a group of finalists, the entire YouTube community is invited to vote for the official winners.
For the first YouTube Symphony Orchestra in 2009, winners from 23 different countries traveled to Carnegie Hall to perform under maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, who also serves as director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. This year, Tilson Thomas will return to lead the second orchestra, this time in sunny Sydney, Australia at the iconic Sydney Opera House.
For cellist Madeline Huberth, a dual-enrolled senior in LSA and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, auditioning via the Web was an intriguing prospect.
“It seemed like it was almost a too-good-to-be-true opportunity, that you just upload a video to YouTube and then it’s completely out of your hands,” Huberth said. “A lot of application processes can be a deterrent because you have to fly somewhere to audition and you have to buy a seat for your cello on the plane. This didn’t have any of those problems — I just set up the camera in my dorm room and made my audition tape.”
Huberth, who hails from Monroe, New York, is pursuing a degree in cello performance with MT&D Prof. Richard Aaron. She has performed in a variety of traditional orchestras — including the University Symphony Orchestra and the Lansing Symphony Orchestra — but none of these ensembles required a webcam audition. In fact, Hubert admitted she rarely visited the YouTube site before her audition.
What most attracted Huberth to the project was the allure of working with Grammy Award-winning conductor Michael Tilson Thomas — nicknamed “MTT” in the music world. Huberth first encountered Tilson Thomas in March of 2009 when he toured to Ann Arbor with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
“I wanted to work with MTT — that was one of the big draws,” Huberth said. “He gave a master class (at the University) last year. He worked with the student conductors here, and the University Symphony Orchestra played for the student conductors. But there was one point where he came up to the podium for like, ten minutes and conducted us, and it felt awesome. So when I saw his name on the YouTube Symphony (website), I thought this is something I really want to get a chance to do.”
After rigorous rehearsing, Huberth submitted her audition videos last November — including one of her playing an excerpt from a symphony by Brahms, her favorite composer. To her delight, Huberth received a call in late December informing her of her acceptance into the orchestra.
Huberth, who has an affinity for dangerous species, is looking forward to seeing some of the snakes, sharks and spiders who make their home down under. She is also relieved that YouTube is paying for her cello’s airfare to Australia besides her own. The cellist said that what she is anticipating most, however, is the opportunity to meet the diverse members of this year’s orchestra, who come from 33 countries and range from teenagers to professional musicians and professors.
“It seems like there’s going to be enough time there to get to know each other,” Huberth said. “I think they’re trying to leave time for us to play chamber music together or explore the city together. So I would say that I’m especially looking forward to getting to know some of these people, especially since they come from such broad backgrounds.”
After a series of sectional concerts this week, the YouTube Symphony’s “season” will culminate with a gala concert featuring the entire orchestra on Sunday. The concert will be streamed live on YouTube and eventually uploaded as a permanent video.
Huberth is optimistic that the affiliation with YouTube will help the orchestra to attract new converts to classical music.
“I think, right now, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra has a particular place in the music climate,” she said. “I would hope that by getting more eyes on music that typically wouldn’t be on music, then those eyes would wander into their local symphonies … It’ll spark more interest in the arts — that’s actually one of its missions. That’s my hope for it.”