YouTube Brings Videos—and 200 Performers Found Online—to Carnegie Hall

After five months' preparation and more than 3,000 online auditions, YouTube debuted its first "user symphony" at Carnegie Hall with original compositions and video installations projected onto nearly 20,000 square feet of historic architecture.

By Michael O'Connell April 20, 2009, 10:00 AM EDT

The inaugural YouTube Symphony

Photo: Obscura Digital

YouTube Symphony
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A viral call to arms posted by composer Tan Dun just five months ago yielded more than 15 million hits and 3,000 auditions from YouTube musicians hoping to be a part of the Web site's first ever live symphony. The 93 winners took the stage at Carnegie Hall Wednesday night for a program that included familiar classical pieces and premiere compositions set to a backdrop of massive video that filled much of the theater.

When Google-owned YouTube set out to bring together its most talented users for a one-off concert, the performance itself would be the prize, so producers settled on Carnegie Hall as an enticing venue. More than 3,000 users submitted videos of themselves playing, and once the panel of judges had selected the 93 performers from more than 30 countries, the reality of planning the actual event became a priority.

Under the direction of YouTube head of marketing and programming Chris Di Cesare and Google Creative Labs managing director Andy Berndt, the production team commissioned longtime Google collaborator Obscura Digital to help the in-house team incorporate dramatic visuals into the concert. The San Francisco-based group was charged with finding a way to juxtapose the project's multimedia genesis with an otherwise standard concert performance.

Obscura Digital C.E.O. Patrick Connolly worked almost daily with Google Creative Labs and artistic adviser and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas for the three months leading up to the performance. “We really worked with Michael to craft the visual elements of each piece and make sure we had the mood and theme that he wanted,” said Connolly. “Each piece had different meanings to the way classical music and the time period were seen through the eyes of the music.”

Connolly's team used a combination of 3-D graphics, moving images, and still photography that was fed through eight projectors in the concert hall. (Only one-fifth of the images used were from stock photography, with the remaining 80 percent created in house.) And the dynamic surfaces inside Carnegie Hall didn't end up being much of an issue for Obscura, which is used to working on building facades and inside tented structures. Coordinating the graphics with the performance and the lighting director was the biggest challenge to the production—and the company had to pull it off after just one rehearsal.

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