Hamlisch "was being considered to be our principal conductor at the end of the [2012-2013] season, which is Peter Nero's final season," Philly Pops president Frank Giordano said Tuesday. He declined to discuss the other candidates. "He certainly was a top choice because he was at the top of his field."
The one-time child prodigy's music colored some of Hollywood and Broadway's most important works.
Hamlisch composed more than 40 film scores, including Sophie's Choice, Ordinary People, The Way We Were and Take the Money and Run. He won his third Oscar for his adaptation of Scott Joplin's music for The Sting. His latest work came for Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!
On Broadway, Hamlisch received both a Tony and the Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for the long-running favorite A Chorus Line and wrote the music for The Goodbye Girl and Sweet Smell of Success. He was scheduled to fly to Nashville, Tenn., this week to see a production of his musical The Nutty Professor, Sunshine said.
Hamlisch even reached into the pop world, writing the No. 1 R&B hit "Break It to Me Gently" with Carole Bayer Sager for Aretha Franklin. He won the 1974 Grammys for best new artist and song of the year, "The Way We Were," performed by Barbra Streisand.
"He was classic and one of a kind," Franklin said Tuesday after learning of his death, calling him one of the "all time great" arrangers and producers. "Who will ever forget 'The Way We Were'?"
Hamlisch's interest in music started early. At the age of 7 he entered the Juilliard School of Music, stunning the admissions committee with his renditions of "Goodnight Irene" in any key they desired.
In his autobiography, The Way I Was, Hamlisch admitted that he lived in fear of not meeting his father's expectations. "By the time Gershwin was your age, he was dead," the Viennese-born musician would tell his son. "And he'd written a concerto. Where's your concerto, Marvin?"
In his teens, he switched from piano recitals to songwriting. Show music held a special fascination for him. Hamlisch's first important job in the theater was as rehearsal pianist for the Broadway production of Funny Girl with Streisand in 1964. He graduated to other shows like Fade Out-Fade In, Golden Rainbow and Henry, Sweet Henry, and other jobs like arranging dance and vocal music.
"Maybe I'm old-fashioned," he told the Associated Press in 1986. "But I remember the beauty and thrill of being moved by Broadway musicals - particularly the endings of shows. The end of West Side Story, where audiences cried their eyes out. The last few chords of My Fair Lady. Just great."
Although he was one of the youngest students ever at Juilliard, he never studied conducting. "I remember somebody told me, 'Earn while you learn,"' he told the AP in 1996.
"The Way We Were" exemplified Hamlisch's old-fashioned appeal - it was a big, sentimental movie ballad that brought huge success in the rock era. He was extremely versatile, able to write for stage and screen, for soundtracks ranging from Woody Allen comedies to a somber drama like Ordinary People.
He was perhaps even better known for his work adapting Joplin on The Sting. In the mid-'70s, it seemed everybody with a piano had the sheet music to "The Entertainer," the movie's theme song. To this day, it's blasted by ice cream trucks.
Hamlisch's place in popular culture reached beyond his music. Known for his nerdy look, complete with thick eyeglasses, that image was sealed on NBC's Saturday Night Live during Gilda Radner's "Nerd" sketches. Radner, playing Lisa Loopner, would swoon over Hamlisch.
Hamlisch was principal pops conductor for symphony orchestras in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Dallas, Pasadena, Seattle and San Diego at the time of his death. He was due to lead the New York Philharmonic during its upcoming New Year's Eve concert.
Giordano, president of the Philly Pops, said Hamlisch "was going to be our guest conductor for our April 'Bond and Beyond' program. He composed 'The Spy Who Loved Me' and he wrote the Carly Simon song 'Nobody Does It Better,' " for the film. The hit single was nominated for the Academy Award for best song in 1977.
Hamlisch was working on a new musical, Gotta Dance, at the time of his death and was scheduled to write the score for a new film on Liberace, Behind the Candelabra.
He leaves behind a legacy in film and music that transcended notes on the page. As illustrative as the scenes playing out in front of the music, his scores helped define some of Hollywood's most iconic works.
He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Terre.
Inquirer staff writer Tirdad Derakhshani contributed to this report. AP Drama Writer Mark Kennedy contributed from New York and AP Writer Jeff Wilson contributed from Los Angeles.