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On Marvin Hamlisch

January 4, 2013 Biographical, On Conducting

On Marvin Hamlisch:

At the beginning of August in 2012, I was in Los Angeles to lead the 15th installment of my BMI seminar, Conducting for the Film Composer. We had also scheduled the first live performance of Symphony of Hope: The Haiti Project on August 3rd with an orchestra and chorus made up of incredible professional musicians who were all donating their services in order to raise over $120,000 for Haiti relief. I received a phone call on the morning of August 2nd (the one rehearsal for the concert was to be held that evening) from my dear friend, David Low, who asked if I could get myself to Warner Bros. studio in order to conduct a whole day of recording sessions. It turned out that the sessions were for the pre-records on an HBO film entitled, Behind the Candelabra, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Marvin Hamlisch had done the arrangements and had even written a new song for the movie—but he was in the hospital and was unable to lead the sessions. Pianist Randy Kerber was featured in these recordings reproducing, with incredible facility and dexterity, many of the original tunes as recorded and played by Liberace. Later on, during the film’s shooting, Michael Douglas, as Liberace, would pretend to be playing the piano to these pre-recorded tracks. Coincidentally, Marvin had also been one of the 25 contributing composers to the musical woven thread that had become Symphony of Hope, so my day and evening was touched by Marvin’s musical magic.

At the end of the day’s sessions (before I ran downtown for rehearsal), I asked the film’s music supervisor if he would pass on our best wishes to Marvin for a speedy recovery. He had said, of course, that he would be happy to do that but, as these things go, he ultimately was unable to deliver the message. Unbeknownst to all of us, I had just inadvertently conducted the last recording session that Marvin, himself, was ever scheduled to do—because, sadly, he passed away over the weekend. At the time, I was unaware of this until the following Tuesday when, back in Knoxville, I received a phone call from Bob Moir, Vice President for Artistic Planning at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He informed me of Marvin’s passing and asked if I would do them the honor of stepping in for Marvin that September in order to open the PSO’s Pops season on four concerts with Matthew Morrison (from the T.V. show, Glee).

The following are the remarks I said to the audience on that weekend in September, as we were all still reeling from the aftershocks of Marvin’s passing:

Good afternoon and welcome to the PNC Pops with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I’m Lucas Richman and I’ve got some very big shoes to fill—a huge void created by the tragic loss of our dear friend, Marvin Hamlisch. I had the honor of conducting for him several times when he would be at the piano playing music from his various projects, such as his first film, The Swimmer. The stage set-up you see here has affectionately become known as the “Marvin position” because of the many musical moments over the years that he led from this very piano. We miss you Marvin.

Marvin was already a well-known award-winning composer, songwriter and musician when he came to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. But this was where he began as a principal pops conductor, a post he maintained and loved for 17 seasons with the PSO. Marvin may have been a New Yorker, but he often said that Pittsburgh was his second home because he loved this city, this wonderful orchestra, the people here and, you, the audience. I think that Marvin touched more people with his music than even he realized because everyone here seems to have a story about him. When I was being brought here the other day from the airport, the driver told me about a time when he was in a restaurant and, when he went to the Men’s room, he realized that Marvin Hamlisch was there. The driver knew that it might be uncomfortable to shake hands at that point but, somehow, he wanted to let Marvin know how much he appreciated his music. So, as the two men were standing there, facing the wall, the driver cleared his throat…and began to sing. “Memories, like the corners of my mind,” to which Marvin responded (as only Marvin could), “Thank you, sir…that’s one memory I will never forget.”

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