The Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra

The Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra began its annual pilgrimages to perform on the Elizabethan Stage in Ashland more than 30 years ago.

"It started when the orchestra's founder, William Whitson, approached (the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) with the idea," says Margie Daly, a Rogue Valley music teacher. "He thought the stage would be a lovely venue for chamber music, and it is. But first the orchestra had to pass muster with Todd Barton, OSF's resident composer, who found it more than acceptable."

Daly managed PACO in the early '80s while living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"I did a little bit of conducting as well," Daly says. "It was exciting. The students in the orchestra have such a passion for music that they get together and sight-read string quartets just for fun. They'll take a piece of sheet music they've never seen before — such as the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 by Bach — and just play it."

About 40 students — high school age and younger — perform with the orchestra this year. The students are based in the areas surrounding Palo Alto, Calif., and they audition to join PACO, which was founded in 1966 by Whitson in his living room in Palo Alto, Daly says.

"Once they join as young students, they may progress through the various levels of training orchestras within PACO," Daly explains. "Some of these students have played music together for 10 years and have developed a strong sense of ensemble."

The group performing at OSF on Monday, June 21, is a senior orchestra and will be directed by Benjamin Simon, who is in his eighth year with PACO. Simon has been a member of the chamber music faculty at the University of California at Berkeley since 1998, and he is the music director of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Prep Chamber Orchestra.

PACO's concert at OSF promises to take audiences on a musical tour of South America — "from the sunny shores of the Caribbean to the tango joints of Argentina." Dance music of Panama will be performed, along with Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla's "Nuevo Tango."

The program also will include a marimba concerto by Brazilian composer Ney Rosauro with a solo by PACO percussionist Chris Froh. The winner of PACO's fifth annual competition for young composers — a new work titled "Lights, Fog, Wind, Grasses" written for the orchestra by Gabriella Smith of Berkeley — also will be presented.

The youth orchestra competes internationally at youth festivals and has represented the U.S. in France, Spain and other countries.

"In 2000, at the 29th International Youth and Music Festival in Vienna, Austria, PACO won the first place award in the chamber music category," Daly says. "After its Ashland concert, the orchestra will travel to Turkey to participate in a youth orchestra festival to be held in July in Istanbul."

Daly is a piano accompanist with the Rogue Valley Youth Choruses and her husband, Pat Daly, presents preconcert lectures for the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra. Both teach private piano lessons.

The Ashland show will start at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $12, $10 for seniors, $5 for students and are available at the OSF box office. Call 541-482-4331. In the event of rain, the concert will be moved to the Angus Bowmer Theatre.

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