Pops Mourns Loss of Director

Marvin Hamlisch, renowned composer of stage and screen, director of the Pasadena Pops, dies at 68.

Marvin Hamlisch, the revered Broadway and film composer who had recently become a fixture on the local cultural landscape through his leadership of the Pasadena Pops, died unexpectedly on Monday at age 68. Hamlisch, according to sources, was being treated in a hospital over the weekend for an undisclosed illness when he suddenly collapsed and passed away.

“We’re just devastated,” said Pasadena Symphony and Pops CEO Paul Jan Zdunek. “He had just renewed his contract with [the Pops] for another three years. This was completely unexpected.”

When asked the nature of the hospitalization preceding the composer’s death, Zdunek was unable to answer.

“Marvin was a man who intensely valued his privacy,” he said. “We only heard about what happened as the world found out.”

Born in New York City on June 2, 1944, Hamlisch grew up in a musical family that nurtured his talent. A child prodigy with perfect pitch, he quickly ascended to the very top of the musical entertainment world. Among his best known works are the scores for the films “Ice Castles,” “Ordinary People,” “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Way We Were,” and “The Spy Who Loved Me;” the Broadway musical “A Chorus Line;” and the Lesley Gore hit “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows.” But for many, his most recognizable work was arranger of Scott Joplin ragtime tunes for the film “The Sting” starring Paul Newman, which earned him an Oscar for Best Music. His latest work was composing the scores for Steven Soderbergh’s “The Informant!” and the musical version of Jerry Lewis’ “The Nutty Professor.”

In recent years Hamlisch had turned increasingly to conducting pops repertoire with symphony orchestras. The Pasadena Pops was the latest in a series of appointments that saw him lead pops programs for several organizations including the Dallas Symphony, Seattle Symphony, and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras. He was also scheduled to lead a New Year’s Eve concert with the New York Philharmonic at the end of this year.

Though Hamlisch’s death will force the Pasadena Pops to search for a new music director, Zdunek said the orchestra would continue with its forthcoming concerts.

“This is show business, after all,” he said, “and the show must go on.”

Reminiscing over the orchestra’s personal relationship with Hamlisch, Zdunek remembered a man who not only was able to charm listeners, but also inspired a deep love in his friends and colleagues.

“He was an absolutely brilliant musician,” he recalled. “But what audiences never got to see was what a brilliant human being he was off-stage. His warmth with the musicians, his sense of humor – these are things we’ll never forget.”