Kevin Kelly - Artistic Director and Conductor
Kevin moved to the northwest Chicago suburbs in 2014, after 23 years of living in Champaign-Urbana, where he served the musical community in multiple roles. In 1996, he founded a uniquely entertaining professional chamber orchestra—The Prairie Ensemble—with a mission to “make first-rate music fun, approachable and affordable. The Illinois Council of Orchestras honored Kevin three times for his work with the ensemble. Those honors included “Programming of the Year” in 1999 and 2003, and “Meritorious Service in Orchestral Conducting” in 2002.
Kevin has conducted the East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra (ECIYO) since 1993, helping to build an 11-player middle school string ensemble into a full symphony orchestra of high school and middle school students from communities throughout the area. The Illinois Council of Orchestras named the ECIYO “Youth Orchestra of the Year” in 1999. 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, Kevin 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. Programming also featured theater and dance.
In fall 2015, Kevin became Artistic Director of the Allegro Community Chorus, a Palatine Park District program, and served for four years as Conductor at the Lake County Núcleo of Sistema Ravinia, an outreach program of the Ravinia Festival.
Kevin was Artistic Director of the Northwest Choral Society from 2018 to 2020. Before joining the Voices of Hope Community Chorus in August 2023, he was Artistic Director of the Sing to Live Community Chorus© from 2021 to 2023.
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. Previously, he directed the Sangamon Valley Youth Orchestras in Springfield, IL, and the Illini Statesmen Barbershop Chorus in Champaign-Urbana. He guest-conducted the touring Bohemian Chamber Philharmonic, the Illinois Symphony Orchestra in children’s concerts in Bloomington, IL, and the Cumberland Valley Chamber Players in his hometown of Chambersburg, PA.
Kevin was active in musical theater for many years with the Illini Union Board and the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company, serving most recently as musical director for the group’s productions of “Gypsy,” “Grease,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Les Misérables” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
Kevin earned master’s degrees in orchestral and choral conducting from the University of Illinois and bachelor’s degrees in English (essay writing) and music history and criticism from Northwestern University. While working in acquisitions for Mosby-Yearbook 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 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. She’s a scientist at Tate & Lyle Americas.