Alert viewers of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon noticed something different before the opening credits finished rolling in last Friday night's episode: a high string sound soaring above the hard-driving theme song by the house band, The Roots.
As the camera panned the audience and the band, TV viewers saw the surprising guest: legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman.
He played with the group and even joined in on Fallon's weekly thank-you notes section, in which he teamed up with keyboardist James Poyser for lilting musical interludes.
It was a surprising place to see the iconic classical musician, only a bit more surprising than his gig this weekend: playing Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
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Perlman is the latest high-profile collaborator with the UK Symphony, which just this season has played with Marvin Hamlisch, Arlo Guthrie, Ronan Tynan and Denyce Graves. And Saturday's concert is one in a series of joint efforts between the Singletary Center and the symphony that has brought in guests including Hamlisch and violinists Gil Shaham and Sarah Chang.
Perlman's visit takes the collaboration to a new level.
"All of my first recordings of violin works are Perlman recordings," sophomore violinist Kierstin Quick said. "He's definitely one of my musical heroes."
Cellist Geoffrey Hershberger recalled seeing him 11 years ago in Orange County, Calif.
"It was a life-changing event," Hershberger said. "He has unmatched ability, and it opened up a new way of looking at music because it was so expressive.
"Everyone should see him live."
The 1,500 people holding tickets for Saturday night's performance are the lucky ones who will have that experience because the show has been sold out for almost a month with no loose tickets floating around.
Singletary Center director Michael Grice said UK Symphony director John Nardolillo and the orchestra have been working their way up to this unlikely booking. Perlman usually sticks with major professional orchestras.
"It really wasn't that hard," Grice said. "We didn't have to ply him with scented envelopes and gifts and other things people do to get big stars. Working with these other musicians and playing at places like Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center help me get an artist that will push John and challenge his orchestra."
Hershberger said the students have been listening to Perlman recordings to familiarize themselves with his style, and they've tried to focus on their own playing so Perlman won't feel much of a difference between them and the major orchestras with whom Perlman has played.
Nardolillo said the choice of the Mendelssohn concerto was a mutual choice between him and Perlman.
"We want the students to do the great pieces of orchestral literature while they're here, and in violin concertos, that's Beethoven, Sibelius and, of course, Mendelssohn," Nardolillo said. "We said we'd play whatever he wants to play, and it just so happened he picked what we wanted."
The next big event for the orchestra will be a side-by-side concert with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra at Rupp Arena in October, continuing a streak of huge experiences that many students never thought they'd have when they enrolled at UK.
Quick, the violinist, said, "It's just been surprise after surprise."