One could easily assume that with the Boston Pops coming to town for a concert with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, the pros were going to show students how things are done. But the format and the reason for this event have given the home ensemble some chances to take the lead.
"The particular fun part of it was coming up with a program that paid tribute to the horse," Pops music director Keith Lockhart says from his office in Boston. "It's not a program that we've been asked to come up with often."
Then again, the Pops hasn't often played the 75th anniversary of an iconic American racetrack. Saturday's Post Time With the Pops concert at Rupp Arena is the celebration of Keeneland Race Course's diamond-and-gold anniversary with one of its most ardent art collaborators and a huge guest.
The UK Symphony has teamed with Keeneland numerous times during the past few years, including recording a CD in 2007, with the track's support, containing horse-related tracks including Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture and Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries.
The past few years, the track and Maker's Mark Distillery have supported the orchestra's outreach program, which takes the orchestra to schools across the state, through annual sales of commemorative bourbon bottles.
With the 75th anniversary approaching, seeds were planted for the idea of doing something really big.
"You and Dennis and I were sitting over a beer and said, 'Hey, wouldn't it be great if we could bring the Pops down to UK to do something with the students," UK Symphony director John Nardolillo says during a joint interview with Lockhart. Dennis is Dennis Alves, the Pops' director of artistic programming, whose son Patrick studies clarinet at UK and plays in the orchestra.
"We have done similar things in large educational institutions before," Lockhart says, citing an annual program the Pops plays to raise money for Boston College. But Saturday's program will be unique, Lockhart says, because "in my 18-year tenure, we have never done a side-by-side."
The UK Symphony and the Pops will each play a set. Then for the finale, the musicians will take the stage together, with a musician from Boston and Kentucky on each music stand.
For the students, the benefits of playing side by side with members of the nation's leading pops orchestra are readily apparent. But Lockhart says his musicians will get a lot out of it, too.
"Working with young talent is always invigorating, and all of us feel that way," Lockhart says. "We know what we do, and we've been doing that for several years, and to have fresh faces come in with fresh enthusiasm is always a regenerative experience.
"But as John has pointed out, in one evening, in one smoothly flowing evening, to put the UK orchestra and chorus on stage, to get the Boston Pops on stage by itself, and to get all of them together on the stage in a concert that doesn't last 71/2 hours is a great logistical challenge, even in a place as spacious as Rupp Arena."
Nardolillo says, "But if we can pull it off, it will be an unforgettable experience for the rest of their lives."
And the music will endure.
Lockhart says the Pops did a concert with Lawrence County native Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder in June that gave them a chance to tackle some horse and Bluegrass State music.
The Pops will perform an arrangement of Shenandoah and Theme for Earth Day, with a text written by recently retired Keeneland Foundation director Fran Taylor that will be read by Lexington native Tom Hammond of NBC Sports.
Lockhart says there also will be "the most virtuosic treatment of Camptown Races you'll ever hear," plus a suite of music from the 2003 movie Seabiscuit, which was filmed in part at Keeneland. Randy Newman arranged the suite specifically for the Pops and this concert.
"When we bring the two orchestras together, we'll end with the 1812 Overture, which is a signature piece for the Pops," Lockhart says. "It should be a mammoth sound, even for such a mammoth space."