Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conductor dies - Cincinnati News, Weather, Sports from FOX19 NOW-WXIX

Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conductor dies

Erich Kunzel (Source: Cincinnati Pops Orchestra) Erich Kunzel (Source: Cincinnati Pops Orchestra)
Bootsy Collins with Erich Kunzel (Source: Bootsy Collins) Bootsy Collins with Erich Kunzel (Source: Bootsy Collins)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Erich Kunzel, long-time conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, has died. He was 74.

Kunzel died Tuesday morning in Maine after a four-month battle with cancer of the pancreas, liver and colon.

He led the orchestra is his final performance in Cincinnati on August 1.  Maestro Kunzel is survived by his wife Brunhilde.

"The world has lost a musical giant and we have lost a dear friend," said Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra President Trey Devey. "Erich Kunzel built the Cincinnati Pops into one of the best known orchestras in the world and is not only beloved in Cincinnati, but around the globe.  Today we honor his tremendous legacy and offer our deepest sympathies to Brunhilde and their entire family."

The Cincinnati Pops launched a special memorial page to Kunzel on their Web site. The Pops is also accepting cards and notes for Mr. Kunzel's family at the organization's Music Hall office located at 1241 Elm Street in Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202.

The Cincinnati Reds will hold a Moment of Silence for conductor prior to this evenings' game. Kunzel was a huge Reds fan, and co-wrote a song called "Hooray for the Cincinnati Reds" that made its debut on May 19, 1997 at Riverfront Stadium.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors met in a special session this morning and unanimously conferred upon Maestro Kunzel the title of Founder and Conductor Emeritus, honoring his 44 years of exemplary artistic leadership that brought worldwide acclaim to the Orchestra and the region. In addition to naming him Founder and Conductor Emeritus, the CSO Board of Directors passed a resolution to inaugurate the Erich Kunzel Pops Legacy Fund, established to specifically support artistic and programming initiatives for the Cincinnati Pops.

"Erich Kunzel's legacy was simply tremendous and one the Cincinnati Pops is deeply committed to honoring this season and well into the future," said CSO Board of Directors Chair Marvin Quin. "We were truly fortunate to have this world-famous conductor spend 44 years with us in Cincinnati."

Hailed by the Chicago Tribune as "The Prince of Pops," Maestro Kunzel's musical journey brought him fame over the far reaches of the world.

The late Maestro Max Rudolf invited Mr. Kunzel, then a young conductor on the faculty of Brown University, to join the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as an associate conductor in 1965. That October Maestro Kunzel conducted his first sold-out "8 O'Clock Pops" concert.  The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, part of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was then officially founded in 1977 with Maestro Kunzel at the helm. 

"I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend and colleague Erich Kunzel," said Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Music Director Paavo Järvi.  "He was a remarkable spirit and a tremendous musician.  His many years of music making with the Cincinnati Pops brought joy to literally millions, and I join with our community in Cincinnati as well as his fans around the world in mourning the loss of this great musical icon."

Maestro Kunzel conducted the first ever pops concert in China in 1998 in Beijing with the China National Symphony Orchestra.  In August 2008, Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops made an historic return to China to participate in the Opening Festivities of the Summer Olympics.

Starting in 1977, Mr. Kunzel recorded over 85 albums on the Telarc label with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra including the most recent From the Top at the Pops, released on August 25.  More than 55 of these albums appeared on the Top 10 Billboard Charts.  He was named Billboard Magazine's Classical Crossover Artist of the Year for an unprecedented four consecutive years.  Several Grammy Awards, the distinguished Grand Prix Du Disque, and the Sony Tiffany Walkman Award for "visionary recording activities" highlighted his fantastic recording career of over 125 albums.

Mr. Kunzel's distinguished career was personified by his 2006 National Medal of Arts, presented by President and Mrs. Bush at a ceremony in the Oval Office at The White House in 2007. The National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given to artists and arts patrons by the United States Government, is awarded to those who have made outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States. He was also honored in September 2008 as an inductee into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.  The induction ceremony took place in May of this year.

Educated at Dartmouth, Harvard and Brown Universities, Mr. Kunzel studied with, and was personal assistant to, the great French conductor Pierre Monteux.  He made his professional conducting debut in 1957 leading Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona with the Santa Fe Opera Company. 

In addition to the National Medal of Arts and his induction into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, Mr. Kunzel was recently appointed honorary artistic director for the 2012 World Choir Games, which will host its first-ever event in the United States. 

Honoring Maestro Kunzel's wishes, the Pops will move forward and present the concerts he was scheduled to conduct during the 2009-2010 season, including the season opening performances on September 11, 12 and 13. 

In addition to his home in Newport, Kentucky, Erich Kunzel lived on Swans Island, Maine and in Naples, Florida with his wife Brunhilde.

Statements on Kunzel's death:

My wish for us after Erick Kunzel's departure is that we as people become more in line with his idea of perfection and the real fact that you do have to work at it, everyday of the week, and you do not count the days you look forward to them.

The era of the Great ones are winding down and he was truly one of the Great ones.

- Bootsy Collins


Erich Kunzel was a man of great musicality and great vision who will always have a special place in our hearts at Cincinnati Public Schools. His strong belief in the artistic talents of our students led to a dream that is now becoming a reality in Over-the-Rhine: the new K-12 School for Creative and Performing Arts. Maestro Kunzel was the driving force behind this project, which will be part of his enduring legacy to our community.

 - Mary Ronan, CPS Superintendent


"Today, Cincinnati has lost one of its most beloved ambassadors. Erich Kunzel was not only one of the most talented and decorated conductors in American history, he was also one of this area's most passionate advocates, taking his love for the city, music and the arts in his travels around the globe. Erich's extraordinary achievements over a brilliant career helped establish Cincinnati as one of the world's great centers for music and the arts.

I grew up like countless Cincinnatians attending his many Pops concerts in the parks on warm summer nights under the stars.  Most recently, I had the extraordinary privilege of working closely with Erich to compete internationally to bring the 2012 World Choir Games to Cincinnati USA. His boundless energy, enthusiasm and creativity over the past year helped us win the World Choir Games and bolster our already sterling global reputation for great music, great venues and great people. His leadership for how Cincinnati will successfully host the 2012 Games, especially his vision for events like the opening and closing ceremonies, will provide a lasting legacy for generations to come.

Erich was a great conductor. But he was an even better man, and a great friend to the entire Cincinnati community. He has conducted his final performance but his spirit will live on and his legacy will never fade. Thank you Maestro for a lifetime of service to your craft and to the people of Cincinnati."

 - Dan Lincoln, president, Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau


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