Famed San Diego Conductor Dies

Principal pops conductor for the San Diego Symphony and musical genius Marvin Hamlisch died on Tuesday.

Hamlisch collapsed Monday in Los Angeles after a brief illness and passed away shortly after, his publicist Ken Sunshine said, citing the family. Other details were not released.

While many throughout the world will remember Hamlisch for his proliferous body of show tunes, music-lovers in San Diego

He was a conductor with San Diego's symphony since 2006 and last performed at the Star Spangled Pops summer concert series in June.

“Marvin will always be remembered as just a great musician," said San Diego Symphony CEO Ward Gill, "someone that was a great composer, someone who loved the city of San Diego.”

Gill knew Hamlisch and got him started in the San Diego music scene. He said during the seven years Hamlisch spent as principal pops conductor, the symphony was wildly successful.

"He doubled our attendance levels, ticket sales," Gill said. "He was so instrumental in making us what we call a 'tier-one orchestra' among American symphonies today.”

Hamlisch was scheduled to conduct three concerts with the San Diego Symphony as part of its "City Lights" series, formerly called the "Winter Pops."

“I think what was so wonderful about him is when he performed, he required music to be played at the highest level, but he wanted it accessible to an entire community, younger children, adults, broad-based from all economic backgrounds,” Gill said.

In addition to his impact in San Diego, Hamlisch wrote and arranged compulsively memorable songs that the world was unable to stop humming -- from the mournful "The Way We Were" to the jaunty theme from "The Sting."

He composed music for film heroes from James Bond and Woody Allen, for powerful singers such as Liza Minnelli and Aretha Franklin, and high-kicking dancers of the Tony-winning "A Chorus Line."

To borrow one of his song titles, nobody did it better.

Hamlisch became one of the most decorated artists in history, winning three Oscars, four Emmys, four Grammys, a Tony, a Pulitzer and three Golden Globes. The marquees of Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed in his memory on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

He arranged many of Minnelli's albums, including her first two as well as "Judy Garland & Liza Minnelli `Live' at the London Palladium."

"Marvin Hamlisch and I have been best friends since I was 13 years old," Minnelli said on Tuesday, calling him "one of the funniest people I knew. I will miss his talent, our laughter and friendship, but mostly I will miss Marvin."

Hamlisch's interest in music started early. At the age of 7, he entered the Juilliard School of Music, having stunned the admissions committee with his renditions of "Goodnight Irene" in any key they desired.

In his autobiography, "The Way I Was," Hamlisch admitted that he lived in fear of not meeting his father's expectations. "By the time Gershwin was your age, he was dead," the Viennese-born musician would tell his son. "And he'd written a concerto. Where's your concerto, Marvin?"

In his teens, he switched from piano recitals to songwriting. Show music held a special fascination for him. Hamlisch's first important job in the theater was as rehearsal pianist for the Broadway production of "Funny Girl" with Streisand in 1964. He graduated to other shows like "Fade Out-Fade In," "Golden Rainbow" and "Henry, Sweet Henry," and other jobs like arranging dance and vocal music.

"Maybe I'm old-fashioned," he told The Associated Press in a 1986 interview. "But I remember the beauty and thrill of being moved by Broadway musicals -- particularly the endings of shows. The end of `West Side Story,' where audiences cried their eyes out. The last few chords of `My Fair Lady.' Just great."

He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Terre, a television producer.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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