The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Waco Symphony Orchestra Welcomes New Conductor

The baton is passed to Lawrence Loh

3 weeks ago

Pictured: Lawrenche Loh, provided by Waco Symphony Orchestra

By Avery Ballmann

When the job opening for Waco Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director and Conductor position was published to the music community, 100 applicants from pockets all over the world filed their applications. Over an 18-month vetting process, the orchestra whittled the applicants down to their top 10 then four and then to their finalist — the hiring board finally found their new face of the orchestra, Lawrence Loh. But he prefers to go by Larry.

Loh received his Artist Diploma in orchestral conducting at Yale University, his master’s degree in choral conducting at Indiana University, as well as his bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Rochester. Loh hails from Syracuse, New York, and his previous job was with the Syracuse Orchestra (formerly Symphoria). Executive Director of the Waco Symphony Orchestra Carolyn Bess said the 11-person hiring board consisted of board members, musicians and others to help find the perfect match.

“I expected that we would get a sizable number [of applicants], but I didn’t really expect it to be quite that large,” Bess said. “So, it was a delightful surprise. I think there’s so much happening that’s exciting in the Waco arts community.”

When Loh first heard about this position, he said he was immediately interested from his connections with the Dallas Symphony and Baylor University but also because he knew the orchestra was of high quality based on their reputation. After Loh was invited to Waco last October to conduct “Breaking Boundaries” as part of the finalist process, his ideas for the orchestra began to churn.

“It was a really, really positive week. I felt like I got to know a lot of people and one thing [that] was clear was how much this orchestra meant to the community,” Loh said. “I think that was tremendously exciting and also critical from my end, kind of getting a sense of what the possibilities are.”

For the concertmaster of WSO Sue Jacobson, Ph.D., said that what set Loh apart from the rest of the applicants was his excitement for the symphony and his love for Texas.

“He was very clear about wanting to be here, wanting to be with this orchestra,” Jacobson said. “It was more than just, ‘Yeah, I want this job.’ I mean, he really wanted this job in Waco, with the Waco Symphony.”

While being personable and eager to be a part of the symphony were all green flags, Jacobson as a musician also wanted to make sure the new conductor was musically apt and communicated effectively. After all, the orchestra only has four rehearsals before a show and to get 75 to 80 musicians to buy into the vision of the conductor is ‘remarkable’, but Loh passed the test.

“Prior to our first candidate a year ago, the orchestra had only ever had Stephen Heyde, there had been one guest conductor many years ago,” Jacobson said. “Other than that, it had always been the same person, same approach, same pacing of rehearsals, everything, and you were very comfortable with that.”

Heyde led the Waco Symphony as its conductor and Director of Music for 35 years and he retired in November of 2022. Heyde was named Music Director Emiterus, an honorary title in the music world after a conductor retires and was the 2021 WACOAN of the year.

“It’s an honor to take it into the next era,” Loh said. “I have huge shoes to fill, and I really respect his work, so it’s exciting to have him pass the baton to me.”

The next time Loh’s baton will sway and move from the podium at Waco Hall is at the “Sci-Fi Spectacular: Sun, Moon, & Superstars” concert on April 7 at 3 p.m., just in time for the total solar eclipse. At this concert, the audience will hear movements from famous movies such as “Star Wars”, “Star Trek” and “Interstellar” and hear from film critic Gary Cogill as he describes the films featured in the concert.

“I think this is the perfect concert to introduce him even more deeply to our community — the first time that he’ll really be on the podium in this role,” Bess said.

The concert will also feature film presentations from NASA, and they will host a talk with their directors from the Planetary and Physics Division before the show at 2:10 p.m. To purchase tickets for “Sci-Fi Spectacular: Sun, Moon, & Superstars”, visit their website. And remember to dress as your favorite sci-fi character with Loh and other audience members.

“There is a lot of excitement generated around this orchestra and also feeling that the community wants this orchestra to evolve into this next phase, whatever that is,” Loh said. “I’m excited to be presiding over that.”