In October, YouTube launched the YouTube Symphony Orchestra (YTSO) for the second time. Musicians were asked to submit a 10-minute video of themselves performing an orchestral instrument. By mid-December, more than 300 finalists, four from Hong Kong, were short-listed from the more than 2,000 entrants by a judging panel consisting of members of leading orchestras from around the world and YTSO artistic adviser Michael Tilson Thomas.
The panel cut the list again by asking YouTube users to vote. Votes were taken into consideration, and 101 members were selected. Four of them could not commit to the orchestra, but the remaining 97 will fly - on an all-expenses paid trip - to Sydney, where they will participate in rehearsals and a number of concerts from March 14 to 20.
"The applicants for this year's YouTube Symphony Orchestra have been truly outstanding," multiple Grammy award-winning composer Thomas said.
"It has been inspiring to listen to such excellent music-making by people from all over the world, and to see the great reaction from the online community to the auditions. I am looking forward to getting together with everybody in March and creating a fine orchestra."
Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts graduate John Ma, 27, and current second-year student Mark Hui, 19, are the sole winners from Hong Kong. Both of them were selected based on their violin renditions.
Ma hails from Macau, but is now based in Hong Kong. He was unable to audition in 2008, but made certain he'd try out this time by taking a month and a half to prepare. Much of his time was spent committing the music to memory. "When I play, I try not to read sheet music," he says. "When you memorise a piece, your energy is more centralised; but when you have to read music then it disperses your focus and concentration. It took me about two to three weeks to memorise the pieces."
Hui found out about the orchestra auditions by from his classmates. He filmed his audition video inside Concert Hall, a 380-seat venue at the Academy. "I had two people help me," he says.
"When I was considering what type of recorder to use, someone who just happened to walk by advised me not to use an iPhone to record it. He had a video device and said he'd help. The same day we met he helped out. We started at 8pm and finished at 11.30pm." Another friend helped Hui cut the five songs together to make one continuous video.
Overall both musicians received pleasant and favourable comments via the YouTube community.
Many Hong Kong users wished them well and showed their support. But as with any online community, there was the occasional unprovoked scathing remark.
"We received a lot of comments about our auditions online," says Ma. "Some from people we know and some from those we don't. Most have been very supportive and were encouraged by our music.
"However, sometimes someone will leave a personal remark that has nothing to do with music and someone else will quickly reply and criticise their behaviour. I felt really touched by that."