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Marvin Hamlisch: Ready to ‘Put on a Show’ With Dallas Symphony

The legend takes the baton this month as the principal pops conductor.
photography by Peter Ross/Corbis

Q: Recently you said that you and the DSO were a perfect fit. How so?

A: Every time I come back to Dallas, I make a lot of friends. Liener Temerlin, Ross Perot, Mr. and Mrs. Dan Cook. I mean, there’s a lot of people here that I’ve gotten to know and really enjoy. It’s one of the few cities where not only do I work with the orchestra, but I socialize with a lot of people. I just feel very much at home in Dallas. I’ve always enjoyed the city, love the orchestra, love the hall, and always wondered when, if ever, we would make this happen because it just always felt so right.

Q: How is Dallas interesting to you?

A: I love the people of Dallas. They’re bigger than life. I mean, it’s true. Dallas people are just bigger than life. They’re gregarious. If they love you, you know it. The only thing I have to get used to in Dallas is some of the heat. Sometimes I get out of the car and it’s like I go from air conditioning into what seems to me like the inside of a laundry mat. But the food is wonderful. I’m hoping that people will get to know me well enough that when I’m walking down the street, they’ll say, “Hi, Marv.”

Q: How do you define yourself as a pops conductor?

A: To me it’s simple. I’m trying to put together a show with top-notch, usually American, music, but to put it in such an entertaining way that mothers and fathers and grandparents will bring the kids. That’s my goal. I don’t believe that a concert necessarily just has to be a conductor with his back to you all the time and two and a half hours of that and it’s over. For that, as far as I’m concerned, you can buy the CD.

Q: So what do you do?

A: I think it’s important that there be a rapport between the conductor and the audience. I do talk a lot to the audience, and I try to have fun up there. Now, that doesn’t mean at the expense of good music. It just means as part of the good music, we’re also going to have a good time.

Q: Are you going to play the piano for the all-Gershwin show this month?

A: I don’t like to give away what I’m going to be doing, but, yeah, we’ll be at the piano, definitely.

Q: What are your impressions of the DSO?

A: DSO is a very good orchestra. They’re very good to rehearse with. Any orchestra that works with me has to get used to my style. My style is not just about getting the music right; it’s about putting on a show, and that means sometimes I make changes. Sometimes I take out repeats. Sometimes I decide to cut a number at the last second. I want to make this thing the best two hours you ever have in a hall.

Q: How do you define success for yourself?

A: Sometimes, to be honest with you, I’m backstage and someone will introduce me and they reel off all the awards. And I think to myself: “Well, now I know what it’s going to be like at my funeral.” You know what I mean? Because you hear: “He won this. He won that. He won this.” You think to yourself: “Well, that’s not really the reason I did it. That’s just gravy. That’s just the stuff that they give you afterward.” But the reason you do it is because you love what you do and you want to do good work. I think that’s the name of the game.

Q: What are your interests outside of music?

A: I like to travel. I like to go to the tried-and-true places, Rome, Paris, London, Vienna, the Mediterranean, those kinds of places. I enjoy that a lot. And I enjoy just getting time to be a human being. That’s something I really am working on right now.

The DSO’s pop series runs August 27 through May 28, 2011.