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'People's composer' Marvin Hamlisch charmed cities across U.S.

August 7, 2012 | 10:23 am

Songwriters, musicians and Broadway performers voiced grief Tuesday over the death of composer Marvin Hamlisch, known for his work on Broadway musicals and movie soundtracks.

But Hamlisch's death on Monday at age 68 also sparked a series of loving tributes from the array of symphonies across the United States that got to know the composer in the final years of his career. A statement from his family confirming his death referred to him as "the people's composer."

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, where he spent 17 seasons as principal pops conductor, praised Hamlisch's sense of humor and called him a "true and great friend."

PHOTOS: Marvin Hamlisch

"We were lucky as musicians of this orchestra to get to know this man," said Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, principal oboe of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. "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."

Hamlisch held the position of principal pops conductor not just for Pittsburgh but for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony and Pops, Seattle Symphony and San Diego Symphony. Next week, he was to be announced as the principal pops conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. And on New Year's Eve, he was slated to conduct a concert with the New York Philharmonic.

"We're deeply saddened by this shocking news," said Eric Latzky, vice president of communications of the New York Philharmonic, where Hamlisch had provided one-night-only concerts for the past five years. "He's an artist who left us much too young."

PHOTOS: Stars react to Marvin Hamlisch's death

Although much of his life had been spent composing at the piano, Hamlisch loved working with symphonies toward the end of his career, said Mark Niehaus, principal trumpet for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, where Hamlisch had been a conductor since 2008. Hamlisch gave three or four concerts during the year in that city, building evenings around specific themes, such as the songbook of Richard Rodgers or pieces recognized during the Academy Awards.

During those concerts, Hamlisch would regularly ask four members of the audience to invent their own song title. He would then come up with up a new song on the spot that incorporated all four song titles, singing it and accompanying himself on piano.

"He was the consummate showman when it comes to talking to an audience," Niehaus said. "I haven't seen anybody do it better."


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-- David Zahniser