While in college and the military from 1957 to 1965, William Whitson frequently returned to his parents’ home in Palo Alto. It was during these times that he would invite many of his musical colleagues to come together to experience the joy of playing chamber music. The Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra name was first used at this time. A few musicians from this earliest “PACO”, including violinist David Abel and oboist Robert Hubbard, still dot the Bay Area.
When William Whitson returned to Palo Alto permanently in 1965 to make his home, he started a private teaching studio. It was then that he saw the strong need for a chamber music background in the education of students. As concertmaster of the only youth orchestra in California during his high school years he did not feel that this large orchestral experience created a fulfilling and broad musical education.
As a result, he gathered together a group of high-school-aged musicians to form the core of what was initially called the Palo Alto Junior Chamber Orchestra as an offspring of the above-mentioned adult ensemble. In a very short time, this new group of young musicians grew from one chamber orchestra to three; was transformed from periodic rehearsals in the Whitson family living room to those held weekly in a rehearsal hall, and changed from selected performances to a regular series of season concerts. At the end of 1966, the PACO organization was founded with The Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra, the Junior Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra, and the Training Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra making up its three levels.
Originally, the orchestras concentrated on Baroque music. Now, they perform chamber compositions, major concertos and symphonies from all periods. Within the organization’s current five levels, training continues to focus entirely on strings, with each orchestra maintaining a maximum of 28 members. Experienced wind, brass and percussion guest musicians are added when required by the repertoire.