Pittsburghers remember Marvin Hamlisch
Friends, colleagues and fans react to the death of composer and Pittsburgh Symphony Pops leader and award-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch.
Friend Harold Smoliar, the PSO's English horn player and jazz pianist on several pops concerts:
It was a fantastic experience to work with him. He was a genius and at the same time, a very sweet guy. A mensch.
I loved the fact that he was a regular guy -- here's a man who won every award that he could in his profession and he wanted to know the score of the Yankees games while we were working. He appreciated talent in every area."
Lawrence Loh, the current PSO resident conductor:
Before concerts, Marvin was often quiet and in his own world backstage, and it was amazing to see how his personality lit up once he was in front of the audience. He obviously loved performing and loved people. As a conductor, one of Marvin's greatest attributes was his love and trust of the musicians in front of him. We will miss his huge presence at the Pittsburgh Symphony.
Liz Callaway, Tony nominee who recently starred in "Sunset Boulevard for Pittsburgh CLO, was supposed to sing for Mr. Hamlisch next month:
When I found out, I was supposed to work with him next month for a gala with the Pasadena Symphony. I was looking at flights, and then thought, I'll go over to Facebook, and I read it and said, I can't believe it. I was talking to someone from Pasadena last night and said I'm not sure which three songs I would do but when Marvin gets back, let's talk. It's just so unbelievable. Everyone is so stunned ￢ﾀﾦ only 68. That's really depressing. He lived a full life, though, always going, going, going.
I worked with him years ago when I did the first reading of 'The Goodbye Girl' in the early '90s. I didn't get to know him then; it was more like, 'Oh my God, it's Marvin Hamlisch." Then I did a little Kennedy Center thing that ASCAP [American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers] was doing, where he was being interviewed and I was one of three singers. Afterward, we went out to dinner and I sat next to him and we talked all about our love of baseball; he was a huge Yankees fan and I was a Mets fan. We hit it off, and called me a few weeks later and asked if I would do a Sondheim tribute with him, and we did one with the National Symphony last June.
Asked for an anecdote, Ms. Callaway said:
He referred to me as his rock because it would be like, in a cast of five, he would say Liz is my rock, I can make her do anything. He called [before a concert] and said, I want to see everyone wearing black, and then when I arrived in D.C., it was no, I want you to wear color. So on a two-hour dinner break, he said take my driver, go to the Chevy Chase mall, here's my credit card, buy a gown. Now. I took it, went to Neiman Marcus, and said, "Blue."
He was like that. So generous. ￢ﾀﾦ And he was a very genuine, down to earth guy. As someone who does concerts with so symphony orchestras at a time with so many are struggling, he was the face of so many. He can't be replaced, really.
Jack Allison, former head of musical theater at Point Park and now a faculty member, and a director who recently helmed "Fiddler on the Roof" for Pittsburgh CLO:
I coordinated his residency while he was [at Point Park last year.] ￢ﾀﾦ He taught three master classes, and I was so impressed mostly in his dealings with young artists. He was very disciplined in what he demanded in terms of their work ethic; he kept reinforcing that. He had what I would call a good sense of tough love. He was tough as hell, but it came out of a sense of really caring how to best mold them as artists.
He said something that stuck with me. He's the last of those great composers of the golden age of Amercan musicals. One thing he told us, although he embraced the new sound on Broadway, he was saddened by the loss of melody and poetic lyrics. ￢ﾀﾦ He didn't bad-mouth what was being written, and he predicted it would come back. Then, at the end, he was playing the piano, you could hear what he had talked about -- actable lyrics and soarable melodies.
Deane Root, director of Pitt's Center of American Music:
Marvin Hamlisch meant a lot to Pittsburgh and the PSO Pops. But he was also a man who was able to write major shows for Broadway, work closely with such singers as Barbra Streisand, and still connect humbly with fans. It's a great loss for American music, and for Pittsburgh."
Lucas Richman, music director, Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and Bangor Symphony Orchestra:
It was an honor to share the stage with Marvin as assistant and resident conductor for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1998-2004. Several times during my time with the PSO, Marvin asked me to conduct for him while he played the piano on a Pops concert and I remember that those moments were always filled with laughter, great stories and, of course, great music. He was, most definitely, a genius in his spontaneity and his understanding of the theatrical moment and we are so fortunate to have had so many of those moments with this incredible composer and performer. He has left us a legacy that will be cherished as one of the pillars of the American Musical Theatre.
Fan Jeanne K.C. Clark:
I hope whoever writes the appreciation to Marvin Hamlisch points out how wonderfully he embraced Pittsburgh and how accessible he was. It wasn't just window dressing; he went to our restaurants, made great friends across the region, and really made the audience believe that he loved Pittsburgh as much as they did.
I also hope you write about the extraordinary free "apology" concert he put on one season after many complaints about PSO-free performances and a bad fill-in conductor. I have never seen anyone else go to such great lengths to make sure the audience was happy and got great value for their tickets.
He so connected with the audience. I feel like I've lost a personal friend.
Statement from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra:
Marvin Hamlisch's passing is a tremendous shock to all of us at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He was a true and great friend who absolutely loved the PSO, our audiences and this city. He considered it his second hometown and it clearly showed, whether he was taking in a Pirates game, dining at his favorite restaurants or patronizing stores.
His remarkable accomplishments as a musician, composer and conductor are well known and documented. We are indeed fortunate that he spent 17 seasons with us as our PNC Pops Principal Conductor, sharing his talents and creating memorable programs.
But there was another side to Marvin. He was a gentleman who always found a way to brighten our lives with his sharp wit, wonderful sense of humor, kindness and grace.
There is no doubt that our audiences will miss him very much. He cared greatly about them and worked tirelessly to create the best possible experience for our patrons.
Marvin was a unique individual and our world is a less joyful place without him. He will truly be missed by the staff and musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Marvin's family, and his wife, Terre.
Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, PSO's principal oboe:
We were lucky as musicians of this orchestra to get to know this man. A lot of people didn't know him, about his kindness to the musicians, staff and, especially, the audience. He really became a part of our city. He loved this city. He was here for so many years that many of us became close friends with him and his wife, Terre. I've been lucky that we had the opportunity to know them. We are all shocked and truly saddened.
Statement from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl
I am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Marvin Hamlisch and my prayers and deepest condolences go out to his family and friends. Marvin was truly brilliant as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's principle conductor and he raised the Symphony's and Pittsburgh's profile as a top arts and cultural destination. His contributions to Pittsburgh and the arts community will be missed, but not forgotten.
First Published August 7, 2012 1:15 pm