As I mentioned in my last report, the Grand Finale concert of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, with Michael Tilson Thomas as Music Director, took place at 8 PM on March 20 in the Sydney Opera House; and the entire program was recorded for delayed viewing through the YouTube Web site. In that report I stated that the program was scheduled to last two hours and twenty minutes. In reality the video was about fifteen minutes longer.
As I reported almost two years ago, the last time YouTube tried to stream a video of such length, the support technology was just not up to the task. Interruptions to refill the buffer came early and often; and Johannes Brahms, whose music began the program, was definitely not well served by the unintended gaps of silence. I am therefore happy to report that this time the technology could not have performed better, even allowing me to pause for a few breaks during my viewing. I also appreciated a feature for skipping over the time consumed by the passing of the intermission. There is absolutely no doubt that the experience of the cyberspace concert is improving, even if as a side-effect of technology being improved for other reasons.
Having established the quality-of-service for the video stream, I should immediately observe that this particular event should in no way be confused with the sort of concert experience one tends to encounter at Carnegie Hall or (on my side of the country) Davies Symphony Hall. Strictly speaking, I would prefer to call this video a document of a “media event,” one of whose elements was the performance of music. I am sure that many will disagree with me, but for my part I found most of the other elements distracting from both the music itself and the talents of those performing it. This applied to all of the real-time controlled dynamic imagery provided by Obscure Digital Projection, served up not only on all surfaces surrounding the performers but also on the exterior of the Opera House. I also could do without the profiles of some of the members of the orchestra, as if they had been selected out for their fifteen minutes of fame on this occasion. I appreciate the opportunity to browse this content on YouTube but not when I am interested in listening to an ensemble, rather than paying attention to individual members.
As to the program itself, it pretty much followed the description on the concert’s Web site, which I previously reproduced but will repeat:
Grainger, Percy (1882-1961) “Arrival on Platform Humlet” from In a Nutshell Suite
Berlioz, Hector (1803-1869) Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9
Bach, J.S. (1685-1750) “Toccata” from Toccata and Fugue in F Major for Organ Solo, BWV 540 Cameron Carpenter, organ
Ginastera, Alberto (1916-1983) Two Movements from Estancia: Danza del trigo and Danza final (Malambo) Ilyich Rivas, conductor
Mozart, W.A. (1756-1791) Caro bell’idol mio, K562, Sydney Children’s Choir
Britten, Benjamin (1913-1976) Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34
Strauss, Richard (1864-1949) Vienna Philharmonic Fanfare
Bates, Mason (1977-) Mothership
Mendelssohn, Felix (1809-1847) Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 Finale (Allegro non Troppo – Allegro molto vivace) Stefan Jackiw, violin, Ilyich Rivas, conductor
Westlake, Nigel (1958-) Omphalo Centric Lecture William Barton, didgeridoo; Synergy percussion
Jacobsen, Colin / Aghaei, Siamak Ascending Bird: Suite for String Orchestra Colin Jacobsen and Richard Tognetti, violin
Stravinsky, Igor (1883-1971) Firebird Ballet (1910) (Danse Infernale, Berceuse, and Finale)
There were few minor changes. The Berlioz overture opened the concert, followed by the Grainger selection. Renée Fleming joined the Sydney Children’s Choir for K. 562 through a virtual (probably pre-recorded) appearance. The intermission was followed by a prelude for didgeridoo composed by Barton, after which (unless I am mistaken) Synergy and members of the percussion section performed “Suna” by Timothy Constable. Finally, after acknowledging the earthquake/tsunami tragedy in Japan, Michael Thomas offered an encore of the third entr’acte in B-flat major that Franz Schubert composed for Helmina von Chézy’s play Rosamunde. This featured solos by two of the “faculty” members for the week, oboist Eugene Izotov from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and clarinetist Andrew Marriner from the London Symphony Orchestra.
Musically the performance was acceptable and often better. The only noticeable weakness came from the horn section, whose members had not come up to speed on listening to each other or the rest of the ensemble. There were a few ragged moments in the string section, but they were isolated incidents easily forgotten. Considering how little time these performers had to get to know each other (as performers, rather than as people), these were definitely results worth acknowledging. Indeed, these were performances that deserved to be the center of attention, rather than having to contend with the excess of media display.