I pity the people who will be listening to the auditions--having to choose a wind section, for example, from submissions by thousands of students who believe that their future in music might be through cyberspace.but I have more to say.
For my (very small amount of money), I would prefer to use publicity and prestige to improve the musical education out in the non-glittery world of the provinces (like where I live), and to encourage audiences for live performances of good and varied music outside from the major cities of the world.
I feel that YouTube helps do that by making it easy for musicians to broadcast performances from their remote locations. It becomes a window to the world for me. This kind of thing becomes a kind of reverse telescope. 100 people will be flown into New York at YouTube/Google's expense and be made a fuss over. What does that do for the future of music? Very little.
A few years ago our son and his friend made a short (30 second) advertisement as part of a YouTube contest for Heinz Ketchup. You can see his entry here. It seems to have been seen by 364 people since it first went up. We all followed the contest closely, watching hour upon hour of 30-second video ads about catsup (and I imagine that 100 of those 364 views came from my household and the household of our son's project partner).
Like all contests there is one winner. The winner of the Heinz contest was Heinz: if they did air the winning ad on television, I didn't see it, but the company got the winning ad at a bargain rate because they didn't have to pay a professional price for it. And for a while, Heinz was on the public's mind, which is what promotion is all about.
Like all promotional projects, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra contest serves to promote a product, and in this case the products are Tan Dun, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Carnegie Hall. There is already more buzz about this project than any concert in recent memory. The public relations machine has really done its job, but, as I said above, it does little for the advancement of music or musicians, really. There will be 100 "winners," and I'm afraid that the thousands of people who are not winners will really feel like losers. We can't really afford that kind of win-lose situation with music because music is a totally different kind of game: it is the kind you play to play, not to win.
This project even got a mention on the popular culture section of the Rachel Maddow show, where Rachel and her popular culture adviser made fun of the idea of having classical music connected with YouTube. I guess they don't have a clue about the absolute treasure trove YouTube is for classical musicians and people who enjoy listening to classical music.
I applaud what YouTube is able to do for classical musicians and for classical music, but you are not going to see me playing any part in this on-line orchestra.
Update: Abu Bratsche, a viola blog I just encountered, has an excellent post about this