By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
People come to the “Star Wars” franchise in all manner of ways. In the case of conductor Lawrence Loh, though, he’s old enough to remember the first film, from 1977, and how it changed his life.
“I was also a huge John Williams (film composer for the ‘Star Wars’ series) fan, and went to see the original ‘Star Wars’ in the theater a total of 13 times!” said Loh, who’ll conduct the Symphony in the soundtrack to “Jedi” while the film plays on a giant screen.
“Every weekend, I begged my parents to take me and was totally obsessed. This makes my connection to the live performances of ‘Return of the Jedi’ even more compelling.
“My favorite conductors were Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Bernstein, and John Williams, but I was also into Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, and James Taylor!”
Loh, a Korean American, grew up in central Pennsylvania surrounded by music, mostly courtesy of his mother, a violinist with the Harrisburg Symphony.
“My mom taught Suzuki violin lessons in our living room so there was always music happening at our house. There was a rotating door of students every day after school and all three of us (me and my two siblings) took violin and piano lessons from a very young age.
My mom was my first music teacher on violin, but then I started taking both piano and clarinet and then exclusively clarinet and piano. Clarinet is my principal instrument, but both of my children play violin (full circle!).”
As a conductor, he’s always had a great affinity for “pops,” or symphony programs of popular music. The first time he ever conducted a film’s soundtrack, to a screening of the film, came with the Pittsburgh Symphony and “The Wizard of Oz,” which he remembers as a trial by fire.
“That film was very difficult to conduct. I remember feeling a lot of stress during both the Munchkinland sequence and the tornado scene. It taught me to just forge ahead and not take any musical liberties as I would conducting, say, a Mahler symphony.
“It is a completely different way to approach the music because the interpretation is already complete and you have to basically replicate it. My main job is to be clear and absolutely sure of my tempi.”
Loh conducted “Jedi” with the Baltimore Symphony before bringing it to Seattle. He points out that the film’s jam-packed with music, leaving the musicians with barely enough time to catch their breath before the next segment.
But, he said, it’s all worth it.
“As a ‘Star Wars’ obsessed person, I love this film because it is the conclusion of the original trilogy. I vividly remember watching ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ in the theater in 1980 and that movie ended with so many questions unanswered. We had to wait three years until ‘Return of the Jedi’ came out and the lines to the movie theater were so long on that opening weekend.
“John Williams used specific themes to represent different characters, and he did this throughout all nine of the ‘Star Wars’ films [he wrote for]. You don’t even have to think about it, but when you hear, for example, ‘Darth Vader’s Theme,’ but slower and with sparse harmony, you’ll know that the character on the screen is going through something emotionally or physically. The music is one of the strongest parts of the storytelling, especially from the emotional side.”
Lawrence Loh conducts the Seattle Symphony in “Return of the Jedi,” June 30-July 2 at the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, 200 University Street in downtown Seattle.
For prices, showtimes, and other information, visit https://www.seattlesymphony.org/en/concerttickets/calendar/2022-2023/22jedi.