The motley program the YouTube Symphony Orchestra will play at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday evening was devised partly to ensure every section a place or two in the sun. So after full-orchestral rehearsals at the Juilliard School on Monday — led by Michael Tilson Thomas, its artistic adviser and conductor, and Tan Dun, who composed a piece for the occasion — the orchestra split up starting at mid-afternoon for smaller sessions.
Stephen Paulson, a mentor, took a dozen players — mostly winds, a cellist and a bassist — next door to the Kaplan Penthouse to rehearse Dvorak’s wonderful Serenade for Winds, or part of it: a conflation of the first movement and the finale.
If the players thought they were doing well to get away from the painstakingly — make that painfully — detailed work Mr. Thomas had just been subjecting them to in a patch of the scherzo from Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, they may have had second thoughts. As principal bassoonist of the San Francisco Symphony, Mr. Paulson plays regularly under Mr. Thomas’s direction, and he evidently shares his work ethic.
Playing first bassoon here, Mr. Paulson led the mostly young players haltingly through the piece, shaping lines and sharpening rhythms everywhere and tending to the piece’s overall contour. Some laggard attacks suggested that a certain weariness might be setting in. (“I seem to be always the first person playing the second beat,” Mr. Paulson said. “See if you can play it right with me.”) If the players weren’t tired then, they probably were by the time the session ended, 10 minutes late.
And there was more for everyone to do on Monday evening. Seven youngish musicians — mostly percussionists, a guitarist and an okarina player — gathered in Juilliard’s Willson Theater to rehearse Lou Harrison’s “Canticle No. 3,” with Edwin Outwater, a Thomas protégé, conducting.
Or rather, increasingly, not conducting. First he had to win the confidence of the players. “If I don’t give you a cue, it’s better to hold up,” he told an overeager percussionist. “I usually don’t miss.” (On the other hand, you can appreciate the nervousness of a young player clanging on brake drums with metal hammers; it’s hard to paper over a false entry.)
But as the piece went on, with its extended stretches of tricky rhythms, Mr. Outwater found that things fell into place more quickly when he conducted minimally and had the players listen more closely to one another. “If I feel you guys are together,” he said, “I’m not going to interfere.” In the end he was offering little more than those all-important cues.
Many conductors entreat orchestra players to emulate chamber musicians, and listen to one another. Mr. Outwater put the matter into a formula, asking the players to listen 80 percent and watch 20 percent. “No conductor wants you to watch 80 percent,” he added.
Ted Atkatz — a former principal percussionist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who popped in and out as mentor — concurred with Mr. Outwater. “We’re trying to get where we can just sit in the audience,” he said.
Well, he can, at least.