Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Two Unconventional Orchestras

Jay Shulman just sent me some information about a film about the Kinshasa Symphony, an orchestra that makes its home in the largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is central Africa's only symphony orchestra.

I doubt that this film will make it to my part of the central Illinois, but I'm certainly planning to watch it when it comes out on DVD.

The other unconventional orchestra in this post is the YouTube Symphony, which could be considered the polar opposite of the Kinshasa Symphony. My thoughts were prompted by David Cutler's post "What Professional Orchestras Should Learn from YouTube."

I was rather unimpressed with the first YouTube Symphony concert. It sounded to me like a college orchestra that had gotten together to play for a very short music festival. This time around the organizers improved everything about the venture, and the product is really quite impressive. I listened to the viola auditions, and I voted on the people I would like to have as section mates. Everyone I voted for seemed to be in the viola section (which does sound really good), and they are even seated in my order of preference. I must have come to the same conclusions as the panel who made the final choices (and in order to insure the highest quality players, they had a panel which took "suggestions" from the voting public).

The YouTube Symphony is not a professional orchestra. Professional orchestras are business entities that pay professional musicians to play professionally. It is very rare that they get the amount of corporate support that a corporate entity can provide, unless they wear that corporate entity's name.

The players in the 2011 YouTube Symphony are really fine. There's really nothing like hearing an orchestra made of all hand-picked players who have diligently practiced their parts and have been coached to play well together in their sections, playing under the leadership of a first-rate conductor. The added plus of the wonderful hall, the light show (just in case the audience gets bored) arranged in such a way that it doesn't distract the musicians, the chance to be in the world spotlight and have your concert broadcast all over the world, and the singular escape of being at a music festival where all cares about the world outside of the musical experience at hand are left at home--in another hemisphere. The festival is short enough so that there is always the spark of new friendships, and no time for the negative feelings that can pop up at the end of a summer-long festival.

The NBC Symphony was a professional orchestra that was owned and paid for by NBC. CBS also had a professional orchestra. Perhaps YouTube (or Google) can take a cue from the NBC Symphony and use its vast financial resources to create a full-time professional Symphony Orchestra (as big as the one that played in Sidney) to play concerts all over the world. (I don't think that the name "Google Symphony Orchestra" would work quite as well as YouTube Symphony Orchestra.)

Corporate entities have their names all over concert halls, so why not branch out to the orchestras themselves? If corporate America (which seems to stoke the engine of certain parts of the American congress) wants to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the organization that helps performing organizations have a leg up towards making ends meet, perhaps they should offer to sponsor and fully fund America's performing organizations.

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