Lawrence Loh’s tenure as music director of Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic comes to an end this weekend as the orchestra regroups.
After 12 years with the orchestra, Loh says goodbye with “The Music of John Williams,” a pops program set for Saturday, Oct. 7, at 8 p.m. at Peoples Security Bank Theater at Lackawanna College in Scranton. The concert is the orchestra’s only show of the season as it suspends operations for 2017-18 to develop a plan to keep the group financially viable.
“The plan is the philharmonic will be able to fundraise and be in a strong position to have success in the future,” Loh said. “I’m hoping it’s a temporary setback for the philharmonic, because I know the people there, particularly the audience, really value the orchestra, and it has such an important history in the region. And it’s something that needs to be supported and saved.”
The philharmonic gave Loh his first job as a music director, and he believes together they “accomplished a great deal over all these years,” from letting him take an adventurous approach to classical concerts to impacting the community through activities such as educational programs and piano competitions. Nancy Sanderson, philharmonic executive director, called Loh “a community-oriented fellow” and noted that he will donate his services for Saturday’s concert.
“While he has been here, he’s cared very much about Northeast Pennsylvania,” she said. “Sometimes (for) conductors, it’s just a job. They come in, conduct and go. But it was more than that to Larry.”
Sanderson pointed out that Loh’s career is on the rise, and he had been honest with her about other job prospects. He continues to guest conduct around the country and has been named music director of West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
“He cares so much about the orchestra,” Sanderson said. “The thing that people have said to me … is that Larry decided because of the (orchestra’s financial) situation to leave, and that’s not it at all.”
The orchestra had an entire season planned for 2017-18, but decided to go with John Williams’ popular movie soundtracks when paring it down to a lone show. Loh called Williams an “iconic composer” and said he is excited to conduct music from “E.T.,” “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List” and the “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” series.
“I think that they probably rightfully assumed that that would have a good audience, a good draw,” Loh said. “It’s something I’m very passionate about.”
Loh does not expect his relationship with the philharmonic to end with Saturday’s final note, however. Many concerts with other orchestras will keep him busy this year, but he will continue to be available for anything the philharmonic needs and hopes people “would agree how important the orchestra is and how amazing these musicians are.”
“It’s important also because there are varying levels of arts programs in schools,” he said. “ Some are very good, and some are nonexistent, and so the philharmonic really fills that void. And I think most people agree that if people, especially young people, are allowed to express themselves artistically, it can help with every aspect of their lives. And so the philharmonic as the leading cultural institution in the region has a responsibility to be to fill that need.”
The orchestra will present seven chamber concerts this season that will serve as fundraisers for the orchestra and allow it to keep up a presence in the region, Sanderson said. The first will feature pianist Fei-Fei Dong on Saturday, Nov. 11, at Wyoming Seminary’s Kirby Center for the Creative Arts, Kingston, with a reception at nearby Kevin’s Bar & Restaurant, 247 Wyoming Ave.
While the group hopes to have a full season next year, Sanderson said, “there’s a lot to work out in the meantime.”
“We are exploring all sorts of options for doing something more sustainable,” she said. “I really am reluctant to talk about those options now before we really get them in place, but we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
In the meantime, the group will say goodbye to the man who “just won a place in all of our hearts,” Sanderson said. And when he conducts on Saturday, Loh expects to feel emotional.
“I’m sure that I’ll feel a flood of memories of being with this orchestra and with these people, and I’ll just try and hold it together while I’m up there,” he said. “And I really hope it’s a sellout. I really hope that people absolutely fill the hall.”