Marvin Hamlisch died last week, 8/6/2012, at the age of 68 due to a brief illness. I'm late to the party in saying fare well to a legendary man.
I met Hamlisch once, at a masterclass. The folks at Brooklyn College arranged for Hamlisch to listen to scenes from a recently minted set of short operas by BC students, including a scene from Cake. I believe we performed the second scene, even though I asked for the aria to be performed.
Honestly, I don't remember much of what was said to me or the other students. But I do remember one major character trait of Mr. Hamlisch- brutal honesty. Almost to the level of devastating. I can't remember the exact words, but I do remember him explaining how he was going to be frank, possibly brutal, because we needed to hear these things as composers.
And he was correct. 100% correct in fact.
Marvin Hamlisch was a different breed of masterclass presenter. Often in a masterclass, the "master" tip-toes around ideas, asks a few questions, and doesn't add much to the conversation. Hamlisch wasn't afraid to state his opinion of a piece, drive right to the heart of the matter. I respected it then, I respect it now.
Hamlisch's musical output was prodigious. He was decorated, worked as a pops conductor, and accomplished great things for musical theater. In one sitting, I could tell he had a great musical mind, and used it to create what he enjoyed the most- musical theater.
Hamlisch will be missed for his musical works and his conducting. Even more so, I will miss him for being one of a slowly disappearing breed- a man unafraid to challenge young composers, say he thinks a composition is total shit, and explain why he thinks it's total shit. He was a man that was honest enough to tell me I sucked, which led me not to despair, but to sit down and figure out really deeply WHY I sucked.
Cheers to you Mr. Marvin Hamlisch, the only man who has had the balls to tell me my music was inferior and shouldn't be performed as it stands. You were right, though I would have liked your opinions on my last work. Maybe, just maybe, I could have piqued your interest. Perhaps you'll have chance to listen now that you're not so busy.
Fare the well Marvin Hamlisch