PACO offers a comprehensive ensemble training program for its approximately 125 student musicians who are chosen by audition. Five orchestra levels foster string players to start young and advance through the levels as their music training progresses. Music Director, Benjamin Simon, ensures the coordination of the program and organizes the three eldest orchestra levels (PACO, Sinfonia and Debut Ensemble), while Kris Yenney (PACO ’74) directs the youngest two ensembles (Preparatory and SuperStrings).
For so many members, joining PACO is like joining an extended family and an experience that they thoroughly enjoy. Members typically spend many years with similarly talented and motivated musicians, working closely both in and outside of the classroom, as they progress through the ensembles. Although the PACO members come from different schools, multiple Bay Area communities and diverse cultural and economic backgrounds, they develop long-lasting friendships. By the time students reach the senior most orchestra, most have discovered a true sense of ‘ensemble’, both musically and socially.
Each of the five PACO orchestras holds weekly rehearsals throughout the ten-month concert season. Student musicians also meet in coached orchestra sectionals and, in addition, practice and perform in quartets or other small ensembles. For the eldest three orchestras, these small ensembles receive individualized instruction during PACO’s week long Chamber Music Workshop that takes place annually in August at the resident camp of Monte Toyon, near Santa Cruz. Nationally known teachers, artists and members of professional string quartets attend this workshop and provide students instruction in technique and performance. Students attend master classes on musicianship and interpretation, rehearse daily with conservatory-level coaches, and perfect their sight-reading and performance style. The Workshop represents one of the most cherished activities among PACO students
During its regular concert season, PACO presents to the Bay Area, at very low cost, a minimum of 18 full-length, top-quality concerts in Palo Alto or surrounding communities. Included in these is a Season Concert Series for each PACO orchestra. For the youngest groups, concert repertoire concentrates most heavily on the Baroque and Classical eras, providing an excellent stepping stone for the rigors of ensemble technique. Concerts from these groups feature both orchestral and small ensemble presentations. In contrast, concert series for the three older PACO orchestras emphasize larger ensemble pieces and include music from all eras, with a particular emphasis on more contemporary music at the senior level. All PACO concert series feature soloists. For PACO’s senior orchestra, soloists are of international stature and are often well-known PACO alumni. Soloists for the four younger PACO orchestras include well-known regional and emerging artists as well as many PACO musicians themselves who are selected at PACO’s Annual Concerto Competition held in December.
In summary, PACO offers an enriching chamber music program to its student musicians, has a strong commitment to the community and has developed a sound organization to fulfill its missions. PACO is truly an organization that cultivates the highest artistic values while reaching out to its community.