UK Symphony director John Nardolillo to conduct Boston Pops holiday shows

University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra conductor John Nardolillo, shown on a big screen in Rupp Arena during the UK Symphony and Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra’s combined concert in celebration of Keeneland’s 75th Anniversary on Oct. 15, 2011. © Herald-Leader file photo by Mark Cornelison.

University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra director John Nardolillo will conduct two of the Boston Pops Orchestra’s holiday concerts in Boston’s Symphony Hall next month.

Nardolillo will step in for the Pops’ superstar conductor Keith Lockhart, who will be conducting tour concerts in New England by the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra Dec. 15 and 16. The concerts are part of the Boston Pops’ regular holiday shows, which are a Boston tradition said Dennis Alves, director of artistic planning for the orchestra.

He said the engagement is part of the Pops’ enduring relationship with Nardolillo, which started when he was music director for folk music legend Arlo Guthrie, who has performed with the Pops. That relationship reached a high point when Lockhart and the Pops came to Lexington in October 2011 to present a concert in conjunction with the UK Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Keeneland. During that performance, Nardolillo conducted the Pops in one number and Lockhart conducted the UK orchestra for a piece. Both conducted the combined orchestras for the evening’s grand finale.

“We’ve liked John so much over the years,” Alves said. “We really saw him work when the Pops were down in Lexington and thought he deserved a shot.”

Nardolillo is the only guest conductor scheduled to conduct the holiday shows.

Alves said in addition to conducting holiday favorites, Nardolillo will be chatting with the crowd and talking to Santa Claus, “the real Santa Claus,” he added.

“Lexington is really lucky to have John with all he has brought to the orchestra and the outreach programs in Appalachia,” Alves said. “And we’re lucky you’re loaning him to Boston.”

Narolillo’s performances are at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15 and 3 p.m. Dec. 16.

Prior to that, Nardolillo will be conducting the UK Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 29) in a free performance of Claude Debussy’s La Mer and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in the Singletary Center for the Arts Concert Hall. The UK Symphony opened its current season with a performance by violin legend Itzhak Perlman in September and will end with a tour of China in May.

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