Midland remembers Marvin Hamlisch
August 8, 2012
Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 4:30 pm | Updated: 5:40 pm, Tue Aug 7, 2012. Hamlisch made local impact By Scott Tady firstname.lastname@example.org Timesonline.com
MIDLAND -- One of the last songs Marvin Hamlisch composed was improvised on stage June 20 at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland.
The power had gone out on that muggy first night of summer, right after Hamlisch had taken the podium to conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops in a tribute to George Gershwin.
Eager to still entertain an audience enveloped in darkness, Hamlisch plopped down at a Steinway piano and concocted on the spot the jovial "The Night the Lights Went Out in Midland."
Unfazed by the continuing lack of electricity, Hamlisch told jokes to keep the crowd amused, and brought on stage one of the night's soloists to perform a Gershwin piano piece.
After 20 minutes, Lincoln Park officials decided to cancel the concert because of safety concerns although Hamlisch, the consummate entertainer, probably would have kept going all night, not wanting to disappoint his audience.
"That's how I'll try to remember him," Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center's managing director Stephen Catanzarite said Tuesday morning shortly after hearing the news that Hamlisch had died after an unspecified illness at the age of 68.
Though engaging on stage that June night, Hamlisch clearly was ailing.
"When he walked in backstage through the artists' entrance, we couldn't believe how frail he looked," Catanzarite said. "He looked very gaunt and tired and was moving slowly. It just wasn't him. He was a big guy, and always so vital and full of life."
It was a life spent composing music beloved by millions, garnering him Oscars ("The Way We Were," "The Sting,"), Tonys ("A Chorus Line"), Emmys ("Barbra Streisand The Concert"), Grammys and Golden Globes.
For 17 seasons, the New York City native conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops.
"We were lucky as musicians of this orchestra to get to know this man," said Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, PSO's principal oboe. "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. He loved this city. He was here for so many years that many of us became close friends with him and his wife, Terre."
Hamlisch's role with the symphony included outreach beyond Heinz Hall, to performance venues like the Scottish Rite Cathedral in New Castle and Lincoln Park in Midland.
"He kind of became part of the Lincoln Park community in the four or five times he was here in various capacities," Catanzarite said.
Along with conducting the PSO Pops in Midland, where he took a shine to the pastries at Rocca's restaurant, Hamlisch donated his time as a guest teacher for a musical theater master class the inaugural year of the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School.
"I told the kids a lot of schools get to perform 'A Chorus Line,' but we've got the Oscar- , Grammy- , Tony-winning composer of 'A Chorus Line' with us," Catanzarite said. "They loved that.
"Marvin really helped put us on the map when we were starting out, to let people know we were really serious about what we're doing with education and entertainment," Catanzarite said.
Hamlisch helped nurture the singing career of Chippewa Township's Vanessa Campagna, first bringing her on stage as a 10-year-old to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony at Heinz Hall, the Buffalo Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra at the prestigious John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
"He was one of the most honorable men I've met in my life," Campagna said. "The way he took control of a room was amazing. He was such a sweet guy, but respected."
Hamlisch orchestrated one of Campagna's breakthrough songs, the Bob Corbin-penned "Daddy's Little Girl," and was a key thread in a WQED-TV documentary on her.
Hamlisch arranged for Campagna to perform at the Kuwaiti Embassy, where she sang alongside Roberta Flack and entertained a crowd that included First Lady Barbara Bush and foreign dignitaries and royalty.
"He introduced me to princes and princesses," Campagna said. "He was so powerful and such an icon in the world, but such a good guy and so down-to-earth. He was always making us laugh."
Catanzarite recalled emceeing a PSO Pops show in Midland when he had to introduce the renowned composer and conductor.
"Two seconds before I go on stage I feel a tap on my shoulder and it's Marvin telling me, 'It's pronounced Hamlisch,'" Catanzarite said, as if there was any doubt. "He had that real dry humor like that."
The Pittsburgh Symphony's website Tuesday paid tribute with a large photo of Hamlisch on its homepage alongside lyrics from his "The Way We Were":
"So it is the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were."
© 2012 Timesonline.com
About Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School
The Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School (www.lppacs.org) is a Pennsylvania public school providing a state-approved academic program and pre-professional training for grades 7-12 in music, theater, dance, creative writing, health science arts and media arts. The school enrolls 550 students from 58 surrounding school districts.
Media Contact: Fred Miller, communications coordinator, email@example.com