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Her Music Man : MARVIN HAMLISCH

August 21, 1994|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Barbra Streisand and composer-conductor Marvin Hamlisch first made beautiful music together in 1973 when they collaborated on one of Streisand's best films, "The Way We Were." Hamlisch won one Oscar for his evocative score and another for the haunting title tune from the romantic drama, which also starred Robert Redford. The movie's title song became one of Streisand's biggest hits, and is one of the several standards she performs on "Barbra Streisand: The Concert" premiering Sunday on HBO.

Twenty-one years after "The Way We Were," Streisand chose Hamlisch to conduct the 64-piece orchestra on her recent acclaimed SRO concert tour.

Hamlisch, who also received an Oscar for his adaptation of Scott Joplin's music for "The Sting," has won four Grammys, a Tony and three Golden Globes. He composed the scores for the Pulitzer-Prize winning Broadway musical, "A Chorus Line," as well as "They're Playing Our Song" and "The Goodbye Girl." This fall, Hamlisch will become the principal Pops conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops.

The gregarious Hamlisch talked about touring with Streisand over the phone from his Long Island home with Times Staff Writer Susan King.

When Streisand introduced you in concert she quipped you didn't need the job.

I didn't need the job, but I would never have said no to it. I thought it was the right thing to do. I wanted to be part of this. I just thought I was made to do this. I really wanted to do it very badly.

When this whole thing came about and I was asked to even think over this whole situation--conducting for Barbra and working for her--to me that was a privilege. We are talking about a great voice. By working with her I realized if she did not have this great voice, she still is a very great lady. What I loved about working with her and doing this is that it gave me a chance to not only get to know her and her to get to know me, but make a really good friend. My job was to make her as comfortable as possible so that she would start to enjoy that process.

How did you do that?

I think it was important that Barbra felt she could count on me--that if I said an arrangement was going to be ready by a certain time, it would be. She knew if she didn't like an arrangement, we would have the time to change it. She also knew if she didn't like something, it wouldn't hurt my feelings to change it.

I think the evening turned out to be a very emotional evening for everybody. I tend to like to talk to people in the audience. I used to go out around 7:30 p.m. and speak to people. A woman told me a very interesting thing about how she felt about the concert. She said when the concert was finished, she felt it was a very empowering concert, meaning that she felt somehow at the end there were things in her life she could achieve. When you work with her, it's the same force. She tends to inspire you to rise to her expectations, thereby bringing out the very best in you. I think that's why people who have worked with her, particularly, who like her and enjoy that, can have a very meaningful working relationship with her.

Do you have a favorite moment or song in the concert?

I kind of modernized the arrangement on "Don't Rain on My Parade," and every time we got to that point, which is very early, having her do it brilliantly used to be one of my fabulous moments. Most of the ballads were just killers. Particularly, I love when she did "The Man That Got Away." I loved "Lazy Afternoon." Obviously, I had to pinch myself every time she sang "The Way We Were." I think one of the most memorable moments, which is probably one of the more quieter moments, is when she sang "Not While I'm Around."

I must say I loved certain nights. Barbra tends to sing certain things slightly differently night after night because she wants to try new things. Her choices, which are totally intuitive, are brilliant. She just does things. The little nuances would be enough to propel you to look forward to the next night.

Besides her improvisational ability, what makes her such a great and unique performer?

Well, first of all she has got this voice. You just go, "Oh, my God." She, being a very literate, a very smart person, understands what she is singing. Therefore, she understands what the hell she is saying as she is singing these songs. She really gets into lyrics and understands lyrics. She can hold notes and make them soar and make them really quiet.

The concert also demonstrates she has a good sense of humor.

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