Remembering Marvin Hamlisch

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David Wiegand of the Times Union’s sister newspaper, San Francisco Chronicle, has a wonderful appreciation of Marvin Hamlisch. He is part of it:

Mr. Hamlisch often wrote with great heart and emotion, but the music for “Chorus Line” memorably shows how much more there was to Mr. Hamlisch’s music than what we heard on the surface on a first listen: He didn’t write songs of hope, love and longing — he wrote human songs, songs about life, not just Broadway or Hollywood’s version of life.

Mr. Hamlisch wrote scores for more than 40 films, including “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Way We Were,” “The Informant” and “Ordinary People.” He was an equally gifted arranger, most memorably, perhaps, for his work on the Paul Newman classic, “The Sting,” in which he adapted the ragtime music of Scott Joplin. If you listen carefully to that score, as everyone did when the film came out in 1973, you may get yet another sense of Mr. Hamlisch’s genius. The score, and the main theme, “The Entertainer,” display an absolute respect and loyalty to Joplin’s original music, even while reworking it for a big Hollywood film.

In a more popular music vein, Mr. Hamlisch and then-girlfriend Carole Bayer Sager composed “Nobody Does It Better” for the 1977 James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me.” It was sung by Carly Simon on the soundtrack and became one of her most enduring hits.
And through it all, the awards kept coming: He was one of only 11 people to have won Tonys, Grammys, Oscars and Emmys, and one of only two people to have also won the Pulitzer (the other is Richard Rodgers).

Unlike other composers, it isn’t always that easy to identify a Marvin Hamisch song or score. We might be able to identify a piece of music as, say, a “Henry Mancini song” or a Bernard Hermann score, but that’s less true of Mr. Hamlisch’s music. The same man who wrote “Sunshine, Lollipops and Roses,” sung by Lesley Gore, wrote the score for the musical “The Sweet Smell of Success,” the score for the film “Bananas,” the classical symphonic suite “Anatomy of Peace” and was principal pops conductor for the Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, San Diego, Pasadena and Dallas symphonies. He was due to be announced as principal pops conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra at the time of his death, had completed the score for the forthcoming Steven Soderbergh film about Liberace, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, and was working on a new Broadway show called “Gotta Dance.”

That isn’t to say that Mr. Hamlisch somehow lacked a style — far from it. If anything, he owned many styles, and each one was authentic and unique.

In remembering Hamlisch, here is an interview that the Times Union’s Steve Barnes did with him back in 1996:

STEVE BARNES Staff writer
Publication Date: July 25, 1996 Page: P10 Section: PREVIEW Edition: ONE STAR

As if Marvin Hamlisch hasn’t done enough: four Grammy Awards, three Oscars, three Golden Globes, two Emmys, a Tony and, for “A Chorus Line,” a Pulitzer Prize.
Now the composer-conductor-pianist has taken over as pops conductor of not one but two major cities’ symphony orchestras. He is intent on redefining what the phrase “pops concerts” means to average Americans. Short-term, he is touring this summer with one of those ensembles, the Pittsburgh Pops, as the backup orchestra to singer Linda Ronstadt. The show arrives in Saratoga Springs Sunday for one performance at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. And Hamlisch is finishing the score for Barbra Streisand’s latest movie. (He also conducted the orchestra accompanying Streisand during her 1994 concert tour.)
Amidst all this busyness, one pops orchestra would be understandable, perhaps, as something Hamlisch might want to try. Why two?
“It wasn’t a question of wanting both of them,” Hamlisch says, speaking on the telephone from his home in New York City. “But they offered it to me, and I decided to try it. Don’t tell anyone, but it’s really not that many concerts — three per year for each.”
The traditional pops concert, virtually patented by the Boston Pops under its legendary conductor Arthur Fiedler, has the orchestra playing its light-classical fare on the first half of the program, and the famous guest soloist appearing to do his or her thing on the second half. Hamlisch violently dislikes the format.
“It allows people to arrive 40 minutes late, just to hear the soloist and not give a damn about what the orchestra plays,” he says.
In Hamlisch’s version — which proved a box-office magnet in its first year in Pittsburgh, and which he hopes will sell as well when he starts a similar program with the Baltimore Pops this fall — a pops concert is an evening defined by a single theme. And the soloist can perform at any time. In the first five minutes, even. That will teach those laggardly patrons.
Thus, a concert in Pittsburgh with an old-fashioned prom theme featured The Platters. A night of love songs starred opera singer Marilyn Horne — and the uncatergorizable John Tesh.
“We did very, very well” with the Pittsburgh Pops’ first season, Hamlisch confirmed. “We went through the roof, box office-wise.”
The tour with Ronstadt follows last summer’s similar series of concerts with James Taylor.
While the orchestra is nominally the music provider for the singer in such an arrangement, Hamlisch has carefully calculated the additional benefits likely reaped by the Pittsburgh Pops.
First, tours with big-name stars get the orchestra’s name known, allowing for the possibility of future expeditions of the ensemble without a celebrity.
Second, Hamlisch sees his style of pops concerts, and especially those with singers like Taylor and Ronstadt, as ways of generating future audiences for all symphonic music.
“We’re hitting them with every angle and appeal we can,” he says. “People will say, `I enjoyed that, let’s do it again.’ It’s a way to develop symphony audiences. People who might be nervous before will say, after they hear us, `That was no problem at all,’ and they’ll be much more likely at any age to come out next time to hear Mozart or Beethoven.”


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