In February, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Manfred Honeck, announced an online competition to choose one soloist to perform next fall at Heinz Hall, as part of a BNY Mellon Grand Classics concert weekend.
In the PSO's Concerto Competition, soloists will upload their performances to YouTube, and Internet users world-wide can eventually vote online for their favorites. The winner will also go home with $10,000, part of the money granted by the PPG Industries Foundation for the contest.
Symphony officials insist this is not American Idol meets Mozart. Truth is, the strategy more closely resembles Justin Bieber's use of YouTube to connect with his audience.
The deadline for submitting videos is March 22. Afterward, a panel of judges chosen by the PSO will select up to 20 of these soloists as semi-finalists based on four equally weighted criteria: style, technique, expression and musicality.
On April 13, the semi-finalists' videos will be uploaded to the PSO's YouTube channel. Then the international audience can vote until April 30. Four finalists will be flown to Pittsburgh for final auditions with Honeck in June.
"I am excited that the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is the first major American orchestra to hold an Internet competition to select an instrumental soloist to perform in concerts," said PSO President and CEO James A. Wilkinson in a press release.
Others are less pleased. "I never knew that orchestras' search committee included humanity at large," someone commented on New York public-radio website wqxr.com. "I always thought that orchestras had a highly qualified group of people for that important task."
Players of the piano, violin, cello, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet or harp can enter by uploading a clip, up to 10 minutes long, of an original solo performance whose material must be chosen from a selection of concertos (see terms and conditions).
Only U.S. residents can enter the competition, but voting will be open to users worldwide. Contestants must have attained the age of majority in their state of residence (18 in most states).
The PSO's director of information technology, Kevin DeLuca, says the competition does not target a specific age group. "We have a minimum age limit because of the legalities of posting content online. The age limit for most states is 18, so we were bound by that on the low end; otherwise, we might have gotten submissions from players as young as 15 or 16 years old," he tells CP.
As of March 7, the PSO had received six clips, half of which are already available to the public online.
"Out of the six we got, we have only published three, because the other three didn't meet the requirements," says DeLuca. "We're not at all surprised; we don't expect the majority of them to come in until the end. But then again, we've never done this before, so there's no data to compare. We know there's also a possibility we might get too many -- or not enough. It's anybody's guess."