William Yarborough, 80, the founder and music director of the American Chamber Orchestra and guest conductor of major orchestras in Europe, died Nov. 4 of Parkinson's disease and cancer at his home in Madison, Wis. He was a former resident of Washington.

Mr. Yarborough had become a favorite on the podium of American and European orchestras from the time he was appointed music director of the American Symphony Orchestra in Paris at the age of 19.

His performing venues included the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, the Vienna Symphony, and the St. Cecelia Orchestra in Rome, the Boston Symphony's Berkshire Orchestra and Chorus and the George Enesuc State Philharmonic in Bucharest, Romania. The George Enesuc was telecast to six other Eastern Bloc countries.

During his 16-year career with the American Chamber Orchestra, Mr. Yarborough's musical direction had been variously described as "cautiously deliberate," "imaginative" and "fluent, well-disciplined and sensitively styled interpretations."

A Washington Post review of a 1983 concert conducted by Mr. Yarborough at the Terrace Theater of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts called it "chamber music with a difference."

"It was. . . . a sprint from Italian neo-baroque to American lyrical to Austrian classical -- made all the more urgent by Yarborough's flying leaps into each new work with a breath of silence."

Mr. Yarborough had been with the American Chamber Orchestra from its beginning. The community orchestra first performed in 1980 with musicians drawn primarily from the National Symphony to capacity crowds in the Anderson House ballroom on Massachusetts Avenue's Embassy Row. Later it performed at the National Academy of Sciences for two seasons and finally moved its season into the Kennedy Center from 1986 to 1994. It also performed at several embassies, some of which held benefit concerts for the orchestra.

The organization also had a series of string trios and quartet concerts at Maison Francaise on Reservoir Road and many recitals at Anderson House until 1996, when it closed after Mr. Yarborough became ill with Parkinson's.

Mr. Yarborough grew up in his native Wilmington, N.C., with a love for music encouraged by his mother. He started on the violin with lessons when he was 7 or 8 years old.

His father, William C. Yarborough Sr., was employed by the Atlantic Coastline Railroad as assistant treasurer, which allowed the youngster to travel on passes once a week to Baltimore for his violin lessons at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Later, the family moved to Baltimore after his father's retirement.

The Yarborough family traces its genealogy to the American Revolution. Mr. Yarborough had been a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, North Carolina chapter, since 1948. He is the great-great-great grandson of Capt. Edward Yarborough of the 3rd regiment North Carolina Continental Infantry.

He had been teaching in colleges before he received his bachelor's degree from the Chicago Musical College with additional studies at the University of Chicago. He received a master's degree in music from Indiana University. During World War II, he served in the Army in Europe and was in the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war, he conducted with the Richmond Philharmonic, which did broadcasts over CBS radio, and in an orchestra in Atlanta. He also was at the Michigan Bach-Mozart Festival, a summer concert series on wheels. He was a guest conductor with the Chicago Civic Orchestra, the Los Angeles Virtuoso Orchestra, the Honolulu Symphony and the Virginia Symphony in Norfolk.

Before coming to Washington in 1972, he was music director of the Lynchburg Symphony in Virginia.

Mr. Yarborough retired in 1996 and moved to Wisconsin in May 2003.

He donated his library of musical scores and orchestral parts to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in 2002.

Survivors include his wife of 49 years, Ruth Marie Yarborough, of Madison, Wis.

William Yarborough, right, founder and director of the American Chamber Orchestra, goes over some music with guitarist Charlie Byrd in 1986.