The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra will not perform at this year's annual patriotic music concert July 3 on the lawn of Transylvania University's Old Morrison Building. The Downtown Lexington Corp. has instead engaged the 202nd Army Band of the Kentucky National Guard to play the event that usually attracts 5,000 to 6,000 people.
Renee Jackson, president of the Downtown Lexington Corp., said that the group booked the National Guard Band because it was in keeping with a focus on the military in this year's Fourth of July festivities. She said the group offered to perform for free.
"We felt like this was a way to showcase the military with a real quality performance," Jackson said Friday afternoon.
In a letter to the Philharmonic's executive director, Allison Kaiser, dated Feb. 14, Jackson said booking the National Guard Band will save the event $20,000, "at a time when event sponsorships continue to decline and public demand continues to rise."
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Jackson added, both in the letter and Friday's interview, that the move was not in response to anything the Philharmonic had done.
"We have enjoyed our relationship with the Lexington Philharmonic and hope to work with them again in 2015," she said.
The Philharmonic has been booked for the concert on a year-to-year basis, but it has a long history with the event. It is usually one of the orchestra's largest audiences of the year.
The Philharmonic's involvement with the concert goes back to at least 1986, according to news accounts in the Herald-Leader archives. Before that, similar events had featured military bands, including a 1983 concert by the U.S. Army Field Band and Soldier's Chorus.
Kaiser said Friday afternoon, "This is a great event, a community-wide event. We want to be part of this celebration, especially with the tradition of how long the Philharmonic has been part of this."
Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell's first concert in the job was the 2009 patriotic music concert.
Earlier this month, Kaiser and the Philharmonic's president, Scott King, sent a letter to Lexington Mayor Jim Gray explaining the Philharmonic's position regarding the situation, which Kaiser says was prompted in part because of rumors that the orchestra was sitting out the event by choice.
"We want Lexington's elected officials to understand that this was not LexPhil's choice," the letter says. "The Lexington Philharmonic board and our supporters were surprised by the finality of this decision without the opportunity to seek alternative solutions."
The letter also stated that the orchestra would not have the option of providing the orchestra for the concert without paying the musicians and the Lexington Singers.
"The basic fact is the exclusive utilization of free services from the Army National Guard Band takes employment away from professional musicians of this area," the letter stated.
Jackson said she understands that the orchestra could not provide its services for free but also said that her responsibility was to the Downtown Lexington Corp.
"It's not always about the money," Jackson said. "But when we had this opportunity, we felt we had to take it. Ultimately, it's about the audience and providing the best possible concert for them."
The Lexington Singers have traditionally performed with the Philharmonic at the concert. Jackson said plans for the event are still being finalized and announcements about the involvement of other local artists will be made soon.