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Marvin Hamlisch named conductor of the Pasadena Pops [Updated]

August 27, 2010 | 10:16 am
Marvin [Updated at 3:05 p.m.] Marvin Hamlisch, the celebrated Oscar-, Tony- and Emmy-winning composer, has written some of the most memorable show tunes and movie scores of the last 40 years. Starting next summer, he'll bring his considerable talent to local audiences when he takes on the top artistic position at the Pasadena Pops.

Hamlisch's appointment, which was announced Friday, marks the first time that the composer has assumed a leadership role with a Los Angeles-area orchestra. It also represents a major win for the Pasadena Symphony and Pops, a venerated but challenged organization that is working its way out of a budgetary crisis.

The composer, 66, is scheduled to lead three concerts in the summer of 2011 at the Pasadena Pops' new lawn venue adjacent to the Rose Bowl. He will also be involved with various aspects of the running of the orchestra, including programming, fundraising and finding guest conductors.

In a phone interview, Hamlisch said he is trying to “make sure that the music we call the American Songbook gets played out there. I think when a family goes to a pops concert and hears that music, the better off we all are.”

He said Pasadena audiences can expect to hear a lot of show tunes and songs from movies.

Asked whether he will conduct his own music, he said, “I'm sure I will.”

Hamlisch will succeed Rachael Worby, who resigned earlier this month after serving as the Pops' music director for about 10 years.

Paul Jan Zdunek, the chief executive, said that the organization initially had approached Hamlisch to be a guest conductor for the coming season. “When Rachael stepped down, we followed up [with Hamlisch to see] if there was interest in coming into a more prominent role, and he was delighted to do so,” said Zdunek.

His concerts with the Pasadena Pops are scheduled for July 23, Aug. 6 and Aug. 27, 2011. A concert on June 18 will have a guest conductor.

The high-profile appointment comes at a crucial time for the Pasadena Symphony and Pops. Earlier this season, conductor Jorge Mester of the Pasadena Symphony left the organization following a dispute with management.

As the economy has suffered, the organization has been faced with shrinking donations and deficits that threaten its existence. In addition, various musicians have anonymously expressed their unhappiness with the association's management.

The organization has said that it expects to finish this fiscal year $500,000 in the red, an improvement after deficits of $1.7 million and $700,000 in its two most recent seasons.

Throughout his career, Hamlisch has worked as a pops conductor around the country, holding top positions with the National Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony, the San Diego Symphony and others.

His long association with Hollywood could ultimately work in his favor since the Pasadena Pops is largely composed of studio musicians who work by day in motion pictures and television.

Hamlisch shot to fame in the '70s for writing the music for “A Chorus Line” and “They're Playing Our Song.” His film scores include “The Way We Were,” “The Sting” and “Sophie's Choice.” In 2009, he returned to movies for the first time in 13 years by writing the score to Steven Soderbergh's satirical comedy “The Informant!”

The composer said he is working on the stage musical “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom,” with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, which is expected to open at the La Jolla Playhouse next season.

Hamlisch won three Oscars in 1974 for his score and title song to “The Way We Were” and for adapting the music for “The Sting.” His other film credits include “Bananas,” “Kotch,” “The Spy Who Loved Me,” “Pennies From Heaven” and “Three Men and a Baby.”

He won a Tony in 1976 for his score to “A Chorus Line,” which originated at New York's Public Theater before moving to Broadway.

A frequent collaborator with Barbra Streisand on film and stage, Hamlisch served as music director for the singer's 1994 concert tour of the U.S. and England, and also worked on her television special “Barbra Streisand: The Concert.” He received an original-song Oscar nomination in 1997 for Streisand's movie “The Mirror Has Two Faces.”

Hamlisch has appeared a number of times at the Hollywood Bowl with the L.A. Philharmonic. In 1997, he conducted a concert, starring Nathan Lane, that featured some his most popular songs and scores. He also appeared at the Bowl in 2000, conducting the L.A. Philharmonic in a concert featuring Barbara Cook.

In September, the Reprise Theater Company will stage a revival of the Hamlisch-Carole Bayer Sager musical “They're Playing Our Song” at the Freud Playhouse at UCLA. The production will debut a new song written by Hamlisch and Sager.

-- David Ng

Photo: Marvin Hamlisch. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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