The Boston Pops' concert in Rupp Arena on Saturday night will be a chance to welcome the most famous pops orchestra in the world to Lexington to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Keeneland.
And for the group's principal cellist, Ron Lowry, this is a homecoming and a reunion of sorts with the institution that launched his music career.
The concert is a joint performance by the Pops, with conductor Keith Lockhart, and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, with conductor John Nardolillo. The orchestras will play individually, then they'll unite for the end of the show.
"UK was especially meaningful to me," said Lowry, who grew up in Versailles and graduated in 1976 from Woodford County High School. "I owe the fact that I'm a cellist to a man from UK who went out starting string programs in the area." That man was UK associate professor Joseph Ceo.
Never miss a local story.
Lowry studied with area cellist Marsha Pendley and Rodney Farrar, logging many hours of practice in the UK Fine Arts Building. That's also where he rehearsed every Saturday morning with the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra, and he even played with the Lexington Philharmonic a few times before he went off to Indiana University for his bachelor's degree and then to Boston and the New England Conservatory of Music for graduate studies.
Lowry was Pendley's first student ever, referred to her by Ceo when she was studying cello at UK.
"That's pretty good when you can say your first student went all the way to the Boston Pops," Pendley said. She will have two other former students playing Saturday night with the UK orchestra. "He (Lowry) really wanted to learn the cello and was very inspired to learn the cello. He did everything I asked him to do."
Being in Boston put him in the heart of one of America's biggest classical music cities and in a position to get into the Pops.
"It was a thrill to be able to play with the Boston Pops and the Boston Symphony," Lowry says.
Like a good Kentuckian, Lowry invokes basketball when discussing the level of skill required to play in the prestigious Boston orchestras.
"They always say you can't coach quickness and speed," Lowry says. "You can help, but you have to have that at the beginning."
The same sort of innate talent is required for a world-class musician, particularly in a group like the Pops, which is asked to play everything from rock and pop music to world music to classical.
Having the right stuff has given Lowry some unique experiences in his career, including playing on The Late Show with David Letterman with Louisville-based My Morning Jacket and being part of the Pops' nationally televised Fourth of July concerts.
One of his biggest moments in the spotlight was as a soloist under former Boston Pops conductor John Williams in a performance of music that Williams wrote for the film Seven Years in Tibet. He played parts composed for Yo-Yo Ma.
"His music is among the best music we play," Lowry says of Williams, the Oscar-winning film composer who conducted the Pops from 1980 to 1993.
Now Lockhart is deep into his second decade as the conductor of the Pops, and Lowry says Saturday's audience can expect "high energy. He's very quick on his feet and spontaneous."
The Pops has been a regular visitor to Central Kentucky in the past decade, performing several times at Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts in Danville. But getting back to Lexington is special, says Lowry, an avid UK basketball fan who hoped to get into Midnight Madness on Friday night.
The entire orchestra is excited about performing with the UK Symphony, he said.
"We haven't done that often," Lowry says of each orchestra member being seated next to a student orchestra member. "By and large, the people of the Boston Pops are a friendly and generous group."
This weekend, they get to share on a grand scale.