Michal Shein  

My Experience Performing With the YouTube Symphony

Michal Shein
April 23, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

The idea behind the YouTube Symphony Orchestra was to bring young musicians together from disparate countries and through an audition process by which videos were uploaded and votes cast via the Internet, 90+ musicians were chosen from 30 different countries. The concert was at Carnegie Hall, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting, and with lots of classical music celebrities thrown in for good measure — some via video and some live on stage. Its success can be debated, (see Polyphonic friend, Greg Sandow's review at Arts Journal), but one thing is for sure. An undertaking of this magnitude had the performers' hearts pumping. Michal Shein, a student at the New England Conservatory of Music, gives Polyphonic.org readers an inside view of the whole process through her own, personal experience as a cellist in the orchestra.

- Ramon Ricker

I just got back from playing in Carnegie Hall with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra and wanted to share my experience playing in this incredible project.

The project was conceived by two brilliant guys who proposed
to Google to use YouTube in order to bring classical musicians together. Google loved the idea and soon collaborated with Michael Tilson Thomas, Tan Dun, and Carnegie Hall. A site was then put up on YouTube encouraging musicians of all nationalities and ages to upload two videos of themselves playing. Over 3,000 videos were submitted. After an intense period of selection and judging, 96 musicians from over 30 countries were invited to come to New York to play in Carnegie Hall as part of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. I was lucky enough to be selected and this is my account of my time leading up to the concert in New York.

After I was informed that I was going to play with the YouTube Symphony in New York, there began a slew of correspondence between the winners. The YouTube Symphony staff set up a Google group and thus we began corresponding with each other. It was really thrilling to start meeting my fellow orchestra players via email. We shared our excitement, our questions, but mostly we used the time before coming to New York to introduce ourselves. It was evident from the start how diverse we all were! Everyone was truly from all over the world and had their own story. Not everyone was playing professionally, and yet it was clear that a passion for music was shared by all of us.

On April 3rd, I flew to California to be with my family for the Jewish
holidays. When I was there, I got a call from a certain Stephen Higgins who said that he really liked my introduction video for the YouTube Symphony and wanted to film me for the documentary he was making about the project. I was thrilled! And so, a film crew came to my grandparents' house and filmed me playing for about 5 hours. It was so exciting, as I've never been filmed for a movie before. YouTube's marketing director, Chris Di Cesare, interviewed me, which was a lot of fun as Chris and I got along so well. It was really at this point that my experience with the YouTube Symphony was becoming a reality. A few days after the shoot, I was off to the San Francisco airport with my cello, headed to New York City.

I arrived in New York on Sunday April 12th, at the Le Parker Meridian
Hotel. I was surprised to hear that I had a room all to myself, as I was
assuming I would share with 4 other people. But this quickly revealed
that Google was really doing us up. Dropping off my bags (and feeling exhausted from 2 previous nights of no sleep, due to excitement), I headed off to the penthouse for the welcome dinner. After I was given my bag of "goodies," (YouTube Symphony stickers, an external hard drive, some spending money, a schedule, and even some hand sanitizer!), I entered a room which was swarming with people and camera men. It was uncanny how many people I recognized immediately, just from watching their videos online. I felt as if I knew everyone already. No time passed and I was striking up conversation with David from Bermuda, with George whom I played in youth orchestra about 12 years ago!, with Celso from Spain, and many more. I felt so comfortable among all these wonderful musicians. Plus, I could use all my languages! My English, Spanish, French, and Hebrew were very handy as I could communicate with
virtually everyone in the orchestra.

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