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Ben Simon leads the youth-based Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. Photo courtesy of Margie Daly.

A tradition of excellence

The Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra celebrates its 50th tour of the Pacific Northwest. The award-winning youth orchestra is composed of 35 string players from the San Francisco Bay Area and includes five ensembles — SuperStrings, Preparatory, Debut Ensemble, Sinfonia and PACO.

The senior PACO orchestra, the most experienced and advanced of the five, records extensively and tours frequently. International tours have brought the ensemble to Central Europe, Turkey and Italy. Founded in 1966 by William Whitson, who served as PACO's music director for 36 years, the orchestra's tradition of excellence remains fresh and exciting under the direction of Ben Simon.

The youth orchestra, conducted by Simon, will celebrate its 50th anniversary with music from Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Astor Piazzolla's tango-inflected "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires" and the first movement of Franz Schubert's String Quartet in D minor, along with variations on "Happy Birthday" by Peter Heidrich. A concert is set for 8 p.m. Monday, June 20, on the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland. Violinist and PACO alumna Robin Sharp will perform solo. Tickets are $14, $12 for seniors, $6 for students, and can be purchased online at osfashland.org or by calling 800-219-8161.

In the event of rain, the concert will be held indoors at the Angus Bowmer Theatre on the OSF campus.

The wide-ranging program of classical music also will feature the premiere of "Anniversary Overture" composed by PACO alum Camden Boyle.

PACO's anniversary tour will take the youth orchestra to venues in Redding, Calif., to Vancouver, British Columbia, and it includes the ensemble's annual appearance at OSF, an association that has endured for five decades.

Music director Simon has performed around the globe as violist of the Stanford String Quartet, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Los Angeles and New York philharmonic orchestras and the Naumburg Award-winning New World String Quartet. A native of San Francisco, Simon has led orchestras and contemporary ensembles in the United States and Europe, taught at Harvard and Stanford universities and has been a member of the music faculty at University of California at Berkeley since 1998.

In 2002, Simon succeeded founding music director Edgar Braun at the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra. The same year, he was appointed music director of PACO.

Violinist Sharp has performed in notable music venues including Carnegie Hall in New York City, the Musikverein in Vienna, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the National Music Hall in Taipei, and the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, where she performed on Jascha Heifetz's Del Gesu violin.

Sharp is concertmaster of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and is a member of the music faculty at Stanford University. She teaches at California Summer Music each year and serves on the artistic advisory boards of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and California Summer Music. Sharp was a Laureate Prize winner at the 1994 Indianapolis Violin Competition and was featured in a documentary about the competition.

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