Last summer, six-time Emmy Award-winning director Ty Kim accompanied the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra (PACO) on its two-week concert tour across Italy to film his documentary, “Playing Well With Others.”
The documentary follows 35 PACO students, three of whom currently attend Gunn, and professional guest soloist Matt Haimovitz, creating a travel log of PACO’s performances at musically significant venues and landmarks, such as the Siena Cathedral. “It was amazing to visit where composers had created some of the most beautiful music ever heard, and playing that music there,” Kim said. Highlights of PACO’s repertoire included Antonio Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Four Violins in B minor,” George Gershwin’s “Lullaby,” and “Hoedown” from Aaron Copland’s ballet, “Rodeo.”
The film explores the way PACO’s focus on small groups and orchestras of approximately 30 instruments develops communication and collaboration skills. “What they stand for, ‘playing well with others,’ differs from any other organization’s goal,” Kim said. “PACO absolutely stresses working with others, and makes that idea almost as important as the music.”
Maestro and conductor Benjamin Simon is an advocate of this concept. “It references what teachers put on the report cards of young children: ‘plays well with others,’” Simon said. “PACO’s approach helps people learn to create something bigger than themselves.” This was proven during a dual performance by PACO and an Italian youth orchestra. “They couldn’t talk to each other, but they could play together,” Simon said.
PACO’s students also support the philosophy. “Not many things in life teach you to listen, cooperate and be harmonious with the people around you,” Palo Alto High School senior Assistant Concertmaster Megan Rohrer said. These skills translate into the students’ musical performance. “For every piece, the orchestra has to come together and play together,” Gunn sophomore cellist Maya Miklos said. “The sense of camaraderie and collaboration is really special.”
“Playing Well With Others” aims to depict PACO’s ideology at work in young musicians. “That’s the one message [of the film], that spark of life of PACO,” Kim said. “Students like Megan give heart and soul to the musical experience, and you can see it unfold on camera. It’s undeniable and inspiring.”
Perhaps the strongest student example, however, is cellist Matt Haimovitz: a PACO alum who began professionally recording at age 17 and founded his own label at 30. “Listening to [Haimovitz] play blew my mind,” Miklos said. “He was spectacular.” Yet Haimovitz’s presence had a deeper significance. “In the documentary, [Haimovitz] comes back to the group who taught him to work well with others,” Kim said. “This is the heartbeat of the film: going back to the group.”
Staff and student members of PACO share the feeling of family. “We’ve created a community of young musicians,” Simon said. “I’m inspired by my orchestra every time we rehearse.”
According to Kim and Simon, this sense of community and gratitude is well-reflected in the film. The student musicians anticipate sharing their story. “I’ll never forget what I learned in PACO,” Rohrer said. “PACO influenced my life both musically and non-musically, and I hope the documentary captures that. I’m sure it will.”
The premier screening will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 28, at the Jewish Community Center at 3921 Fabian Way; admission costs $20 for adults and $10 for students under 18. Seating at this event is limited, but “Playing Well With Others” will also be circulated among several major film festivals this year.