Classically Trained: From YouTube fame to a Sydney show

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With the modern-day Internet, one can turn to Google for just about everything: Web searches, maps, news, e-mail or lucrative advertising, to name a few.

But who knew Google was making orchestras, too?

Turns out one young musician from Irvine did — and it's getting him a free trip to Sydney, Australia.

Andrew Chilcote is a 22-year-old double bass player finishing up his senior year at the New England Conservatory in Boston, one of the nation's top music schools. He was among the many musicians wanting to play in the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, a worldwide affair that had folks from all over uploading videos onto YouTube — the popular Google-owned video-sharing website — of themselves playing their respective instruments.

Those videos were their audition. A panel of experts from nine orchestras whittled down the applicants to 336 finalists from 46 countries. Chilcote was one of them.

Then the Internet world voted. Those votes were tallied and "taken into consideration" before the finalists became the chosen ones.

Turns out everybody thought Chilcote and his bass had the right stuff.

He'll soon be bowing in the eight-person bass section within the 97-member YouTube Symphony Orchestra that's under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. The concert is March 20 at the Sydney Opera House and will be available online for live streaming.

This is the orchestra's second appearance. Its first was in 2009 when the much-hyped group, conceived under the same format of chosen musicians who submitted online videos, performed in New York City's Carnegie Hall.

I got a chance to speak with Chilcote over the phone. I called in from the warm coast to the cold one and asked if he felt stunned that he made the group. He said he was.

"I was actually surprised," he admitted. "Initially I entered it thinking I'd be happy if I got past the first round."

I wasn't surprised, considering the impressive musicality that emanates from his audition video shot last November in the conservatory's Keller Room, a 100-seat recital hall.

The video has about 4,300 views and includes some Bach, some Beethoven and a "nice job" comment.

At his school, dubbed NEC, Chilcote keeps busy playing in various ensembles and even in ones for other schools nearby, like Harvard, MIT and Tufts.

"All the other colleges need bass players because there is a shortage," he said.

Such opportunities are why he chose NEC over USC, where he was also accepted.

"I wanted to try something different after living in California for 18 years," Chilcote said. "I also felt that there was a very supportive environment in Boston for college students, and especially musicians."

Luckily for Chilcote, growing up in Irvine gave him a supportive environment as well. He had some familial influences, considering his mom was a singer and his grandmother played mandolin. He started music at age 6 playing piano. But eventually that whole "two hands" thing wasn't working out.

"I didn't like it that much," he said. "It just wasn't my thing. But in fourth grade they had the string program at my elementary school, so that's when I started playing cello."

But why the cello?

"I think I just liked the size," he said with a laugh. "It was either that or violin, and violin seemed so dinky."

Eventually even the cello was too dinky, and at age 13 he made the last stop up the string size ladder: double bass.

Chilcote was later accepted into the Orange County High School of the Arts, the prestigious public school in Santa Ana, where he further honed his skills.

Christopher Russell, an OCHSA instructor of 17 years and the string and orchestra program coordinator, attested to Chilcote's burgeoning talent as a young man.

"He always was, and is, a very talented student," Russell said. "He is someone who loves his instrument. It may sound strange to say that, but he loves the bass, he loves playing the bass, and he loves everything about the bass."

Russell said Chilcote, who eventually took the helm as OCHSA's principal bass player, took advantage of the school's diverse musical offerings.

"Whatever opportunity he had to play his bass, he did it," Russell said. "I give him a lot of credit for that."

Russell mentioned that OCSHA toured Sydney not long after Chilcote graduated, and he just missed it.

I gathered from this that, somehow, the Irvine bassist was always destined to play Down Under.

"I'm really proud of him," Russell said. "I know he'll have a great time in Sydney."

Chilcote is also an alumnus of the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra, the Irvine-based educational ensemble under the auspices of the Pacific Symphony.

All that training helped him get a chair in the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, of Hingham, Mass., and a spot in a 2008 Italy tour with the Youth Orchestra of the Americas.

When not playing bass, Chilcote likes exploring Beantown and hitting the YMCA racquetball courts.

Nowadays, Chilcote's thinking grad school at NEC, USC, the Colburn School (in Los Angeles) or playing with the New World Symphony, the Miami Beach, Fla.-based advanced prep orchestra for music graduates.

As far as future goals, "Ideally I'd like to play in one of the top orchestras, but I'd just be happy making a living in music, honestly," he said.

It's clear he's off to a great start.

BRADLEY ZINT is a copy editor for the Daily Pilot and a classically trained musician. E-mail him story ideas at bradley.zint@latimes.com.

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