Marvin Hamlisch, a charismatic presence with the Pittsburgh Pops who composed the scores for movies including "The Sting" and won a Pulitzer Prize for "A Chorus Line," has died in Los Angeles at 68.
Family spokesman Jason Lee told The Associated Press Mr. Hamlisch, the Pittsburgh Pops principal conductor, died Monday after a brief illness.
Mr. Hamlisch's career included composing, conducting and arranging music from Broadway to Hollywood. His movies included "The Way We Were" and "Sophie's Choice." He also conducted concerts all over the world, and from the stage at Heinz Hall, audiences witnessed a performer who shared his unbridled joy of music and musicianship.
This afternoon, Michael Bielski, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra vice president and chief operating officer, was still processing the news of Mr. Hamlisch's death. He said that the Pittsburgh Pops 2012-13 season programmed by the late conductor would remain intact as an extension of his legacy.
"He was, is, a close friend," Mr. Bielski said. "Sometimes you forget because he's such a warm person, you forget he's Marvin Hamlisch."
Mr. Hamlisch, who began with the Pittsburgh Pops in 1994, was transformational as a leader and performer, Mr. Bielski said.
"He basically turned the pops concert as defined by our industry -- pops has been around since Arthur Fielder back in the 1930s created the it for the Boston Pops -- he turned it into an experience for our audience," he said. "And it was no longer just a pops concert, it was a show, it was an event. It was something you not only looked forward to coming to, you left talking about it because you know that you have just experienced something.
"The people that come to our pops concert, that is their Pittsburgh Symphony experience. We are a great orchestra and we tour around the world and we have a great music director and great artists come in and play, but all sorts of populations come in and hear what they want to hear, whether it be Fiddlesticks or Pops. And I think what Marvin allowed to happen ... was audiences not only experienced his greatness and his world, but opened up audiences to the Pittsburgh Symphony. To me, that was a gift in terms of keeping the Pittsburgh Symphony alive and strong for this community. He's really one of kind. He's pretty unique."
Mr. Hamlisch was well-known on a local and global scale.
He is one of only 12 people to have earned Emmys, Grammys, Oscars (three) and a Tony.
He is also one of only two to have won those honors and a Pulitzer Prize. The other is Richard Rodgers.
Besides in Pittsburgh, Mr. Hamlisch was principal pops conductor for symphony orchestras in Milwaukee, Dallas, Pasadena, Seattle and San Diego. He was to be announced to the same position with the Philadelphia Orchestra and also was due to lead the New York Philharmonic during its upcoming New Year's Eve concert.
When in Pittsburgh, he was energetic in community outreach and especially generous with music and theater students.
"America's lost a national treasure," said Ron Lindblom, associate vice president and artistic director of the Point Park Conservatory of Performing Arts. "It's just heartbreaking and shocking. I saw him 90 days. I hope our students know how fortunate to have been able to spend time with them.
As part of his residency, Mr. Hamlisch worked with students on the audition process.
"I think what they found most surprising were two qualities," Mr. Lindblom said. "One was how generous he was, and the other how direct and frank. He treated them like professionals, and when he was critiquing, he didn't whitewash anything. Auditioning is about getting a job. I think to some people it might have been a little brutal, but the students embraced it."
A graduate of the Juilliard School of Music and Queens College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, he said, "Music can make a difference. There is a global nature to music, which has the potential to bring all people together. Music is truly an international language, and I hope to contribute by widening communication as much as I can."
A news release from his publicist to the AP said he was scheduled to fly to Nashville, Tenn., this week to see a production of his hit musical, "The Nutty Professor."
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra website lists Mr. Hamlisch's achievements and honors.
The Henry & Elsie Hillman Endowed Chair for the Pittsburgh Pops, Mr. Hamlisch was the composer of movie scores including his Oscar-winning score and song for "The Way We Were" and his adaptation of Scott Joplin's music for "The Sting," for which he received a third Oscar. His prolific output of scores for films include original compositions or musical adaptations for "Ordinary People," "The Swimmer," "Three Men and A Baby," "Ice Castles," "Take the Money and Run," "Bananas" and, in 2009, Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!"
Mr. Hamlisch was nominated for Emmy Awards seven times, winning four.
The first two, in 1995, were for HBO's "Barbra: the Concert," where he took the prize for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Musical Direction, as well as achievement in music and lyrics, shared with lyricists Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, for the song, "Ordinary Miracles."
He leaves behind a legacy in film and music that transcended far beyond notes on the page. As illustrative as the scenes playing out in front of the music, his scores helped define some of Hollywood's most iconic works.
In 1989, Mr. Hamlisch married Terre Blair, a television interviewer. In a 1992 interview with People magazine, he credited her with "bringing out all the good things in me. I found myself quieting down, becoming more understanding of what life means."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published on August 7, 2012 at 10:22 am