An Appreciation: Marvin Hamlisch brought a bit of Broadway to 'Burgh
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Marvin Hamlisch was the Sultan of Schtick and proud of it.
Like Robert Preston's "The Music Man," he unleashed a riveting patter as conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops that appealed to Pops neophytes and music sophisticates alike.
A genuine piano prodigy who attended Juilliard and Queens College, he was, early on, enamored with Broadway and all that it had to offer. He composed his first film score, "The Swimmer," at age 22 and had won a Pulitzer Prize for "A Chorus Line" by the time he was 30.
His life intertwined with the rich and famous of Broadway, and he often poured out backstage stories during Pops concerts.
We hung on his every word.
He programmed evenings by hallmark American composers like George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe and Irving Berlin -- all designed to keep the Great White Way in the public eye.
You might say that Mr. Hamlisch was a modern-day George M. Cohen, a showman who sold the Pops and its music with such an honest air, peppered with witticisms, that we bought it hook, line and sinker.
Heinz Hall audiences eagerly followed him as he unfailingly praised the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra members at every concert and often featured them in solo spots.
He brought the percussion section to the front of the stage and showcased English horn player Harold Smoliar's considerable hidden talents on jazz piano. Under his baton, the dynamic brass section unleashed a sound that stirred and excited, bolstered by edgy rhythms and piercing high notes.
While Mr. Hamlisch proclaimed his love for all things Pittsburgh, particularly the Pirates, he liberally extended that to local talent. He brought in the All-Star College Chorus, held auditions and plucked young vocalists from elementary and high school and featured promising young talents on piano.
They never exited the stage without a conversation with Mr. Hamlisch. Some didn't have to perform -- the Pops conductor would pick out children in the audience, stressing the importance of family and early exposure to the Pops repertoire.
Yes, timing was everything. Mr. Hamlisch knew how to carry it from soaring musical melodies to finely etched syncopations, yet he rarely missed a beat during the course of a concert.
"One" from "A Chorus Line" was the most popular piece during his tenure -- he even dedicated a concert or two to his own compositions. In the end, he, too, was a singular sensation that will be hard to replace.
First Published August 8, 2012 12:00 am