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April 2, 2011

Belated look at YouTube Symphony finale yields Baltimore connections: Rivas, Jackiw

In the usual whirl that passes for my life, I managed to overlook this year's YouTube Symphony Orchestra.

This remarkable global initiative, launched in 2009, allows musicians from anywhere to audition via YouTube video uploads. The first orchestra gathered in New York to work with celebrated conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, who also guided the 2011 crop of young talent, this time in Sydney.

I was reminded of the recently-concluded Australian program the other day when I ...

bumped into one of its participants at a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert -- Ilyich Rivas, the remarkable Venezuelan teenager who is in the second year of his Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Peabody Conservatory conducting fellowship. He was freshly back from Down Under and still glowing from the experience.

So I figured I should take a look at what the YouTube Symphony had been up to, and found myself one of more than a million folks who had already clicked on the two-hour-plus finale from the Sydney Opera House. If you haven't checked it out, do give it a look and listen. Some great stuff in there, including Renee Fleming singing from afar a Mozart canon with local kids in the Sydney Opera House -- the sort of digital artistic hookup that is such a cool possibility in today's music world.

Thomas does some typically classy conducting in this action-packed finale. There is no one more perfectly suited to mentoring such a 21st-century venture.

Of particular interest to those of us in dear old Baltimore is that Thomas also made room on the podium for Rivas, who does impressive work, too. And in one of his spots conducting the YouTube ensemble, Rivas collaborated with the ever-elegant young violinist Stefan Jackiw, who has been a much-admired guest artist in Baltimore during the past decade, starting with BSO gigs when he was teen.

Here are clips from that recent finale of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra's session in Sydney -- the last movement from Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with Jackiw, Rivas conducting; and Rivas leading the orchestra in excerpts from Ginastera's irresistible "Estancia":

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:33 AM | | Comments (1)


Ilyich Rivas was a great addition to the project, recommended for this engagement by Marin Alsop. The concert received 33 million streams worldwide, which is the biggest viewership ever for any concert streamed on the internet (the second most streamed was a U2 concert which received 10 million views). #YTSO also reached #1 worldwide on Twitter during the concert, and this was in Sydney, 16 hours from Baltimore.

Cool. And here I thought classical music was dead in the techno age. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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