His toe-tapping, singable melodies are pure music theatre, and are also original, vital bridges between classical and contemporary song. His longtime friend and colleague Michael Feinstein (a virtuoso pianist-singer-composer-arranger of the same genre himself) understands that which made Marvin's melody neither old fashioned nor simplistic. "What was most important to him was to write music that was accessible to people and was of good substance melodically and harmonically," Feinstein explains. "He was so facile that he could absorb the great melodists of the past while creating fresh, complex, and contemporary material. He was never threatened by the changing of musical styles. Marvin was part of an historical musical continuum; he created in a period of musical transition and found ways, as only the great writers can, of fresh expression to add to the basic fundamental tools of songwriting."
In recent years Hamlisch was persuaded to take on the role of pops conductor of several major symphony orchestras by his manager, who uttered three words: "Gershwin did it." Philharmonic Acting Principal Clarinetist Mark Nuccio, who worked with Hamlisch in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, speaks of his compositional use of instrumentation: "His music is made rich by the keen awareness he had of the individual qualities of the instruments, and he used a bigger complement. Nowadays, most music theatre composers have only about 22 instruments at their disposal and don't take full advantage of even those sounds. Marvin's feels like symphony music."
"That richness of sound," continues Irene Breslaw, the New York Philharmonic's Assistant Principal Viola, "is emblematic of a generation. You could see that in the people who came to his Philharmonic concerts. It wasn't the soloists — he was the attraction. When I played for Leonard Bernstein I always felt I was blessed by the presence of genius. While Marvin modestly shows a reverence for the Philharmonic, in his own genre he gave me that same feeling."
Here's what some of music and theatre's biggest stars had to say about Marvin Hamlisch: