Marvin Hamlisch, the singularly productive and sensationally decorated composer, was honored during Live From Lincoln Center on New Year's Eve. Hosted by five-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, the program aired live on WXXI TV Monday, December 31st at 8:00 p.m.
Join host Robert Hammond as he recaps the program and continues the tribute to the life and legacy of the late, great Marvin Hamlisch on this week's Stage Notes at 11:00 AM.
The New York Philharmonic had engaged Marvin Hamlisch, the famed composer of many of our most beloved songs of stage and screen, to conduct this year's New Year's Eve concert in Avery Fisher Hall on Monday evening, December 31. Tragically Hamlisch died suddenly last August at the age of 68. And so the concert will be a musical celebration of Hamlisch's life and his remarkable output. Furthermore, it will reunite two stalwarts of the Broadway stage, Conductor Paul Gemignani and Director Lonny Price, both of whom brought to our Live From Lincoln Center audiences the remarkable Philharmonic performances of Sondheim's “Sweeney Todd,” “Passion” and “Company,” and Bernstein's “Candide.”
Marvin Hamlisch showed amazing musical talent as a child. Before he was seven years old he was accepted into what later became the pre-college division of the Juilliard School of Music. With a firm training as a classical musician under his belt and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Queens College in New York, Hamlisch went in another direction: Broadway. He became the rehearsal pianist for the musical, “Funny Girl.” It was there that he met a still relatively unknown singing actress named Barbra Streisand. It was a connection that was to endure for his entire lifetime. Highlights of their later collaborations included his serving as Musical Director and arranger for her 1994 tour of the United States and England, which in turn led to the television special “Barbra Streisand: The Concert.” This latter activity earned him two Emmy Awards. His Broadway breakthrough, however, had been achieved nearly two decades earlier with his music for 1975's, “A Chorus Line,” which earned him both a Tony Award for Best Music and a Pulitzer Prize. In all, Marvin Hamlisch composed the music for eight Broadway productions. Among the others are, “They're Playing Our Song,” “Smile,” “The Goodbye Girl” and “The Sweet Smell of Success.”
His career as a film composer had an unusual beginning. The producer Sam Spiegel heard Hamlisch play the piano at a party and hired him to write the music for the film, “The Swimmer.” Continuing his association with Barbra Streisand, Hamlisch composed the music for her starring role with Robert Redford in the film, “The Way We Were.” He also composed the music for several ground-breaking Woody Allen films including, “Take the Money and Run” and “Bananas.” But the best-known of his film scores is probably his adaptation of Scott Joplin rags for the film, “The Sting.” His arrangement of Joplin's, “The Entertainer” became an instant classic. 1973 was a particularly good year for Marvin Hamlisch: He won THREE Academy Awards -- one each for "The Way We Were" and one for Best Adaptation (of Scott Joplin’s music) for "The Sting." Other memorable films for which Hamlisch wrote the music include, “Ordinary People” and “Sophie's Choice.”
Though he applied his Juilliard composition training primarily to the theater and films, there is at least one of his symphonic scores that has had significant performances. Titled, "Anatomy of Peace: Symphonic Suite in One Movement for Full Orchestra, Chorus and Child Vocal Soloist,” it was premiered by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 1991, subsequently recorded by that orchestra, and also performed in New York's Carnegie Hall in 1993. Inspiration for the score was a book, “Anatomy of Peace,” by Emery Reves, which expressed the One World sentiment that was the underpinning for the unsuccessful 1940 Presidential run of Wendell Willkie.
Amazingly there was still another side to this many-sided musician, one which could probably earn him a place in the Guinness Book of Records. As I mentioned above, he was to have conducted this year's New Year's Eve Gala by the New York Philharmonic. Yes, he had another career, that of conductor. He was the ubiquitous and simultaneous Principal Pops Conductor of many symphony orchestras, among them the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Milwaukee Symphony, the San Diego Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the National Symphony and the Pasadena Symphony!
And so we come to this year's New York Philharmonic New Year's Eve celebration of Marvin Hamlisch. It is titled “One Singular Sensation” after the big hit song from A Chorus Line. Soprano Audra McDonald, the newly-named Host for Live From Lincoln Center, will shepherd the proceedings featuring a galaxy of stars performing many of the most memorable of Hamlisch's works.