Keeneland will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year with a gala concert by the Boston Pops and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra in Rupp Arena on Oct. 15.
"It should be a highlight of our 75th anniversary celebration and of the entire fall around Lexington," Keeneland president and chief executive Nick Nicholson said during a news conference Wednesday in the Keeneland Library.
The concert is the latest project by Keeneland and Maker's Mark to benefit the UK Symphony. During the past two years, the orchestra has benefitted from the sale of Maker's Mark bottles commemorating UK athletics during Keeneland's spring meet. Proceeds from those sales and from the concert next fall benefit the orchestra's educational outreach programs, which have the ensemble playing for school students and general audiences around Kentucky.
"When I'm doing a concert for an auditorium full of kids with a student orchestra, and I turn around and see the expression on all the kids' faces, I realize we're changing their lives every time we play," UK Symphony director John Nardolillo said. "And then when I turn around to the students in the university orchestra and see the expressions on their faces, and they realize that, then we're changing their lives as well."
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The Boston Pops concert will be another sort of life-changing experience for the orchestra and the latest in a long line of huge experiences. Since Nardolillo took the baton for the UK Orchestra in 2005, it has performed at New York's Carnegie Hall and Washington's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and it has played with soloists including Marvin Hamlisch, Arlo Guthrie, Gil Shaham, Sarah Chang and Mark O'Connor. It is set to perform with Itzhak Perlman on March 5.
The October concert will be divided into three parts: The UK Symphony will play the first part; the Boston Pops, conducted by Keith Lockhart, will play the second; and the orchestras will combine in a side-by-side finale. Music and ticket information for the concert have not been announced.
"Not every college orchestra gets to do this," cellist Matt Darsey said. "And we didn't even have to go through an audition process."
Boston Pops director of artistic programming Dennis Alves said the Pops has never done a program like this as far as anyone with the orchestra could remember. He has gotten to know the UK Symphony because his son Patrick is a clarinet student at UK and plays in the orchestra.
"We need to be supporting places like UK that support the arts because that's our future," said Alves, who said he had been talking up the UK Symphony in Boston ever since his son enrolled.
Cellist Sara Birnbaum, who is from Boston, said the UK symphony's high-profile concerts and projects such as recordings for the Naxos and Albany labels were a big part of what attracted her to UK to pursue her doctorate.
"I remember sitting in John Nardolillo's office, and he was talking about all these big plans, and I thought, 'They'll never do that,'" she said. "Lo and behold, we've done most of them."