Jonny Lo on his role as the Haffner Orchestra’s Music Director

Jonny Lo at his debut concert with the Haffner Orchestra Lancaster

Jonny Lo at his debut concert with the Haffner Orchestra Lancaster - Credit: Archant

Lancaster’s popular orchestra has a new man at the conductor’s podium

The orchestra playing for shoppers

The orchestra playing for shoppers - Credit: Archant

One of Lancashire’s best loved orchestras has welcomed a new musical director who could be described as a high-flier in more ways than one.

An audience of around 500 were at Lancaster university’s Great Hall to see Jonny Lo take up the baton with the city’s Haffner Orchestra. The brilliant violinist Gina McCormack was also there to play Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto.

If Jonny hadn’t been a conductor, he would probably have been a pilot. He always had a passion for flying and has a pilot’s licence. As well as now being the Haffner’s musical director, he is also principal guest conductor of the Xi’an Symphony Orchestra in China and principal conductor of the Manchester Chamber Choir and New Bristol Sinfonia.

A BBC Performing Arts Fellow in 2015 with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Rambert Dance Company, he continues to conduct for both companies regularly. He also maintains his passion for working with young musicians through his work as musical director of the King’s College London Symphony Orchestra and the University of Southampton Sinfonietta.

Gina McCormack performs with the Haffner

Gina McCormack performs with the Haffner - Credit: Archant

Born in 1987, he read music at Oxford university before going on to study conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music on a major scholarship, graduating with distinction and winning the Mortimer Furber Prize in conducting contemporary music. While at university Jonny was appointed to his first music directorship with the Oxford University Philharmonia after winning the college’s conducting competition aged 18. Since then, he has conducted a wide range of orchestras internationally and nationally, and has also been active as a ballet, opera and choral conductor.

Although the Great Hall welcome was Jonny’s first formal concert with the Haffner, he conducted the orchestra in the city centre as part of Lancaster Music Festival last October. They played in St. Nicholas’s Arcade, the first time ever that the orchestra has performed in a shopping precinct. Rossini’s Barber of Seville overture went down well, with a large crowd cheering.

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One little girl, aged 6, was given the chance to conduct for a few minutes and afterwards her mum said: ‘We thought the orchestra was wonderful – such a treat to get to see the players up close.’ For many shoppers, it was their first contact with a symphony orchestra.

Earlier in 2017 the Haffner had another ‘first’ by organising a big concert for primary school children. They performed Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra at a special event in the Ashton Hall in front of 450 children from local primary schools came. The conductor, Bob Chasey, told the children about the instruments, and showed the principles of how some of them were made, using odd bits of wood, pieces of old plastic pipe and lengths of tubing.

Jonny Lo with a future conductor

Jonny Lo with a future conductor - Credit: Archant

He kept the interest of the whole audience and caused much amusement with his attempts to play his home made instruments. Following this, the players showed the children what the real instruments looked like, and demonstrated the different sounds, playing excerpts from Swan Lake and other well known pieces.

‘The Haffner has a very enthusiastic followers,’ said Helen Price, one of the orchestra’s officials. ‘It’s known to be friendly and welcoming, and people have a good night out when they come to the concerts.’

They are self-funding and get no grants, but are lucky to have three sponsors – solicitors Oglethorpe Sturton & Gillibrand, insurance brokers Weatherbys Hamilton and Rathbones Investment Management – who use the concerts for corporate hospitality. The next concert is on Saturday, February 24, in the Great Hall, Lancaster University, with pianist Martin Roscoe, and Jonny Lo conducting. The programme is Beethoven’s Overture Leonore no. 3, Brahms Piano Concerto no.1 and Sibelius Symphony no. 3

The June concert will be on the 30th in the Ashton Hall, Dalton Square. Jonny Lo again conducts, and the soloist will be a young cellist, Abigail Hayward. The programme is Schumann’s cello concerto and Schubert’s Symphony no. 9.

For more information and tickets go to, or ring 01524 582394.