AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Marvin Hamlisch to debut as Pasadena Pops principal conductor July 23

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

This article was first
published today in the above papers.

 

The 15-month-long remake of the Pasadena Symphony and Pasadena
Pops reaches its next chapter on July 23 when Marvin Hamlisch leads his first
concert as principal conductor of the Pops on The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose
Bowl, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

 

The program — entitled, appropriately enough, “Marvin does
Marvin” — will spotlight the legendary career of the 67-year-old Hamlish, who
is one of just 12 people to have won Oscars (three of them, in fact), Emmys
(four), Grammys (four) and a Tony Award and is one of just two to have swept those
four categories plus earned a Pulitzer Prize (the other is Richard Rodgers).

 

The Way We Were is
definitely not the theme song of the PSO and the Pops at this moment. The orchestras’
saga (perhaps epoch would be a better description) began in March, 2010, when
the PSO announced that it would move from its long-time home, the Pasadena
Civic Auditorium, into the smaller and more acoustically friendly Ambassador
Auditorium.

 

Two months later, the PSO parted company with Music Director
Jorge Mester after a 25-year tenure. Last summer, the Pops moved from Descanso
Gardens in La Canada to its current location next to the famed Arroyo Seco
saucer, but at the end of the season, Rachael Worby, who had served as the Pops
music director for 10 years, stepped down from that post.

 

In October, the Symphony moved into its new home with James
DePreist, in the role of music advisor, leading the first of five concerts with
guest conductors on the podium. And this spring the Pops announced that it
would negotiate a contract to move to the Los Angeles County Arboretum for the
2012 summer season.

 

In the midst of all of this upheaval, the Pasadena Symphony
Association (parent of both ensembles) has been navigating its way through a
financial crisis that nearly drove it onto the shoals of disaster. “We finished
on a high note this past spring,” says CEO Paul Zdunek. “The audience kept
climbing little by little each concert at Ambassador and the last concert had
the highest attendance. I take that as a very positive sign that people liked
what they are hearing.”

 

Into this maelstrom steps Hamlisch, who is best known for
his movie scores (e.g., The Way We Were
and The Sting) and an iconic Broadway
musical, A Chorus Line, for which he won
both a Tony and a Pulitzer.

 

What you might not know is that for the past two decades,
Hamlisch has built an increasingly busy career as a pops orchestra conductor.
He began this new phase of his life 17 years ago as principal pops conductor of
the Pittsburgh Symphony and now also holds that title with the Milwaukee,
Dallas, Seattle and San Diego Symphonies.

 

Hamlisch’s three Pasadena Pops programs this summer will
focus on his legendary career (the other programs are “Marvin Does Broadway” on
Aug. 6 and “Marvin Does Movies” on Aug. 27). “This season I just wanted to give
people a sense of who I am and what I like to do,” he explains. “If things go
well, next year we’ll widen the breadth and bring in more soloists.”

 

The July 23 program will feature vocalist Mark McVey, best
known for performing the role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables
on Broadway and on tour (he won the Helen
Hayes Award for Outstanding Actor
for the touring role). McVey will be part
of a program that
will include such well-known Hamlisch hits as The Way We Were, Ice Castles, The
Entertainer, They’re Playing Our Song, A Chorus Line
and The Sting.

 

Expect a good deal of repartee because Hamlisch enjoys
bantering with the audience from the stage. Moreover, Hamlisch’s programs are
exclusively pops oriented. “I love pops concerts,” he says “They’re a show,
true entertainment.”

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.