The Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra (PACO) is an award-winning youth orchestra for regional string musicians of high-school age and younger. The emphasis on chamber music uniquely sets PACO apart from other youth orchestras in the Bay Area and the nation and lies at the core of its educational success. Also unique to PACO is the orchestra’s highly personalized commitment to both student and community, as envisioned in the mission statement:
To cultivate the highest artistic values and embrace the importance of human relationships through the study of chamber music; to serve as goodwill ambassadors through the performance of chamber music at home and abroad; and to instill a life-long appreciation of chamber music in young people, their families, and the community.”
PACO’s five ensembles – SuperStrings, Preparatory, Debut Ensemble, Sinfonia and PACO – have approximately 25 members each which rehearse weekly and perform throughout the year presenting an extraordinary level of music-making and commitment to their art. Community outreach programs bring smaller ensembles into venues around the Bay Area, including local charitable organizations.
At all orchestra levels great emphasis is placed on chamber music, including a summer chamber music workshop that attracts faculty from across the country. Our young musicians are exposed to the discipline of string quartet, ensemble, and sectional playing, giving them the opportunity to listen critically to one another. Many form their own quartets where they develop further maturity in intonation, phrasing, period style, and the ultimate joy of quality “ensemble performances.” These young musicians become accustomed to giving highly polished public and private performances, and many members of PACO continue to pursue musical careers.
For most, joining PACO is like joining an extended family. Members typically spend 5-10 years with similarly talented and motivated musicians, working closely as they progress through the orchestras. Although these young musicians come from many different schools in a large metropolitan area and from diverse cultural backgrounds, they develop lifelong friendships: by the time they reach Senior PACO, they have discovered the larger definition of “ensemble” both musically and socially.
PACO was founded in 1966 by local violinist, teacher and conductor William Whitson, who served as the orchestra’s music director for 36 years. During that time, Mr. Whitson established PACO as one of this nation’s premier youth ensembles. Appointed Music Director in 2002, violist Benjamin Simon continues the tradition of excellence while also bringing fresh energy and exciting direction to PACO’s programs. In the words of famed violinist Itzhak Perlman, “this amazing group of musicians is one of the finest and most talented I have heard.”