The Central Kentucky Philharmonic Society was created in 1961 to provide background music for a film produced by the Department of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky. The orchestra was made up of about 65 volunteer musicians, many of whom were faculty and students at surrounding colleges and universities, including the University of Kentucky, Morehead State University, Eastern Kentucky University and graduates of the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra. The Philharmonic’s first season consisted of three concerts, all performed at Henry Clay High School; the cost of a full season subscription was just $5 per adult, $2.50 per student and $12.50 per family!
In July 1961, Robert King was named first Music Director and Conductor of the Central Kentucky Philharmonic Society, which was later named the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra Society in 1965. During his tenure, King helped develop the group of 65 musicians into a cohesive orchestra, which soon became the largest arts organization in central Kentucky.
Leo Scheer joined LexPhil in 1965 as Music Director and Conductor. Scheer, a native of Jersey City, NJ, was the first conductor of LexPhil to implement a policy of paying all musicians, who had previously been members of the orchestra on a volunteer basis. Scheer was Music Director for six seasons before he resigned in 1971.
In 1972, Dr. George Zack joined LexPhil as Music Director and Conductor after a year-long search during the 71-72 season. Dr. Zack was chosen by a committee made up of sponsors, LexPhil Board Members, members of the LexPhil Guild and the principal musician of each section of the orchestra. Dr. Zack served as LexPhil’s Music Director for 37 years before his retirement in 2009. A native of Arkansas, Dr. Zack has been an incredible presence in not only the history of the LexPhil orchestra, but in the Lexington community. You can view Dr. Zack’s full biography below.
In April 2009, Scott Terrell was named Music Director and Conductor of LexPhil after a two-year search that drew from 278 applications. A native of Michigan, Terrell worked with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra for five years prior to joining LexPhil and was the Assistant Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1998-2003. For a complete biography of Maestro Terrell, click here.
Today, LexPhil provides over 100 concerts, education and community programs every year, engaging communities across the region and reaching thousands of students in schools. With educational programs including the PB&J Series, Kicked Back Classics, instrument petting zoos, the New Music Experiment and Student Rehearsals, LexPhil is reaching beyond the traditional realms of orchestral music presentation to provide innovative and exciting opportunities in music across the Bluegrass.
George Zack, Music Director Emeritus and Conductor Laureate
Maestro Zack recently retired in 2009 after 37 years as Music Director and Conductor of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra. He was recognized as Kentucky Star by the Downtown Lexington Corporation in recognition for his work in music as“one who has made a significant, long term contribution in the area.” He was also named Artist of the Year by the Kentucky Arts Commission and Governor Paul Patton. That award was followed with the prestigious Optimist Cup from the Lexington Chapter. From 2000 to 2003, he conducted the finals of the World Piano Competition in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was also awarded the Communicator of the Year by the National Broadcasters Association, Lexington Chapter. These accomplishments reflect the range of musical achievements and community recognition he has continued to receive as a leader of Lexington’s arts community. Most recently, a plaque with his likeness was installed in the Singletary Center for the Arts by the LPO Guild in permanent recognition of his leadership of the orchestra.
Zack holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Theory and Composition from Wichita State University (cum laude), a Master of Music degree in Theory and Viola from the University of Michigan and a doctorate from Florida State University in Music Theory and Medieval Art History. He studied conducting under James Robertson, a protege of Pierre Monteux, Dr. Richard Lert of the Berlin State Opera and Gustav Meier at Yale University. He was named Conductor Laureate upon his retirement from the Warren Chamber Orchestra, a post he held for 31 years. He has conducted orchestras throughout the US from east (Bridgeport, CT) to west (Monterey, CA) and north (South Bend, IN) to south (Amarillo, TX). In addition, he conducted the Thessaloniki State Symphony in Greece and in 1979, took the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra to Russia and Romania.
He has worked extensively with young musicians, serving as music director for the All State Orchestra in Ohio, New York and Kentucky. When Toyota Motor Manufacturing created a youth orchestra to celebrate Kentucky’s Bicentennial, Maestro Zack was selected to lead it on a statewide concert tour culminating in a live television broadcast from the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville. In addition to musical duties, Dr. Zack hosted a radio program called Enhancement of Music on WEKU for 37 years. Active in a variety of civic affaris including the National Society of Arts and Letters, The Jazz Foundation, Picnic with the Pops Commission, the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra, the Humanitarium Center for Culture and Diversity, Maestro Zack also found time to be on the vestry of Good Shepherd Church and co-chaired the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ). He was awarded the Spirit of Caring Award by the Volunteers of America, the Hellenic Award given in recognition of a life that exemplifies Greek ideals and was voted into the Hall of Fame of the Mountain Laurel Festival where he served many years as Master of Ceremonies. He is an Honorary Donovan Scholar and received the prestigious NCCJ Laren Weinberg Humanitarian Award in 1997.
Zack is a native of Arkansas, born of Greek parents, and is married to Kerry Sheehan Zack, recently retired from the Prichard Committee as Manager of the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership. They have two daughters. Katherine Bender is an A.M.I. accredited Montessori teacher in Indianapolis, IN, married to Andrew Bender. They have two children, Zackary, age 9, and Thomas, age 5. Melissa Sheehan Johnston is Chief Operating Officer of the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington, D.C., married to Mark Johnston. They have one child, Chloe, and another expected in May 2012.
The mission of the Lexington Philharmonic is to foster excellence and innovation in the performance and presentation of great music; to enrich the lives of our diverse citizenry; to educate current and future audiences and to bring distinction to our community through the orchestra’s presence and standing.