Kevin Kelly, Artistic Director
Kevin Kelly moved to the northwest Chicago suburbs in 2014, after 23 years living in Champaign-Urbana, where he served the musical community in multiple roles. In 1996, he founded a uniquely entertaining professional chamber orchestra called The Prairie Ensemble, with a mission to “make first-rate music fun, approachable and affordable.” Kevin has been honored three times by the Illinois Council of Orchestras for his work with the Ensemble: for “Programming of the Year “ in 1999 and 2003 and for “Meritorious Service in Orchestral Conducting” in 2002. He has conducted the East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra since 1993, helping to build an eleven-player middle school string ensemble into a full symphony orchestra of high school and middle school students from communities throughout the area. The ECIYO was named “Youth Orchestra of the Year” by the Illinois Council of Orchestras in 1999, and Kevin continues to commute to Champaign for Sunday rehearsals. After 13 years as a classical music host at public radio station WILL-FM in Urbana, he served as host and producer of “Live and Local,” which featured interviews with, and frequent live performances by, local and visiting artists across many musical genres, plus theater and dance.
In the fall of 2015, he became Artistic Director of the Allegro Community Chorus, a program of the Palatine Park District, and Conductor for the Lake County Núcleo of Sistema Ravinia, an outreach program of the Ravinia Festival.
Kevin’s work with choirs included 17 years as choirmaster at Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church in Champaign. As music director of The Prairie Ensemble, he conducted collaborative performances with the University of Illinois Concert Choir and Women’s Glee Club, Amasong, the Chorus of the Baroque Artists of Champaign Urbana and the Central Illinois Children’s Chorus. He previously directed the Sangamon Valley Youth Orchestras in Springfield and the Illini Statesmen Barbershop Chorus in Champaign-Urbana. He has guest conducted the touring Bohemian Chamber Philharmonic, the Illinois Symphony Orchestra in children’s concerts in Bloomington, and the Cumberland Valley Chamber Players in his home town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Kevin has been active in musical theater with the Illini Union Board and the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company, serving most recently as musical director for CUTC’s productions of Gypsy, Grease, Fiddler on the Roof, Les Misérables (Student Edition) and Beauty and the Beast.
Kevin Kelly holds bachelor’s degrees in English (essay writing) and music history and criticism from Northwestern University, and master’s degrees in orchestral and choral conducting from the University of Illinois. While working in acquisitions for Mosby-Year Book Medical Publishers in Chicago for seven years post-college, he sang with several professional choral ensembles, including the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the Grant Park Symphony Chorus, The City Musick, Basically Bach, His Majesties Clerkes (now Bella Voce), the choir at Winnetka’s Christ Church and the Schola Cantorum of St. Peter’s in the Loop. He has studied conducting with Kenneth Kiesler, Paul Vermel, Victor Yampolsky, Harold Farberman, Kirk Trevor and Emil Simon.
Kevin lives in Elgin with his wife, Ayano Sakai (a scientist at Tate & Lyle Americas), and their virtual-twin cats, Farley and Percy.