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Title: Erich Kunzel, Cinci Pops - RIP
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Posts: 85

(Date Posted:09/01/2009 17:14)

I thought Xmas music fans might want to know that Erich Kunzel has passed away. Learned about this via the CHFB:

Erich Kunzel dies at 74

By Janelle Gelfand • • September 1, 2009

Erich Kunzel, 74, Cincinnati's music man for more than 44 years, has died.

Orchestra members learned today that Kunzel died this morning at a hospital in Bar Harbor, Maine, near his home on Swan's Island. Information about memorial services was not immediately available.

The Pops maestro is survived by his wife of 44 years, Brunhilde. The couple's homes are in Newport, Ky.; Naples, Fla.; and Swan's Island.

"The world has lost a musical giant and we have lost a dear friend," said Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra President Trey Devey in a statement released today by the orchestra. "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."

"I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend and colleague Erich Kunzel," said Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Music Director Paavo Järvi in the same statement. "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."

The Cincinnati Pops has launched a special memorial Web page where the public is encouraged to view photos from Kunzel's career, as well as post tributes and remembrances. The link can be found at 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 orchestra's board of directors met in a special session this morning and unanimously conferred upon Kunzel the title of founder and conductor emeritus.

Kunzel's final public appearance was with his own Cincinnati Pops Orchestra at Riverbend Music Center on Aug. 1, to conclude the 25th anniversary season of the outdoor venue that he and the orchestra had christened in 1984.

Although he was visibly thinner and only able to conduct half of that night's concert, Kunzel didn't disappoint the thousands of fans who turned out to see him one last time.

"Hey, I made it!" he told the audience that night.

To Kunzel, the audience always came first. In the more than four decades that he worked with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and three decades since the Pops was founded, Kunzel made the Cincinnati Pops internationally famous.

He also was an avid Cincinnati booster at every opportunity. His national and international tours, 10 million recordings sold and eight television specials with the Pops put the city's name before the world.

He was one of the busiest maestros on the planet and kept a whirlwind schedule that could tire his staff members as they struggled to keep up with his grandiose plans. In more than 50 years of music-making, only one thing could slow him down - the cancer that took his life.

He was stunned when he learned on April 29 that he had cancer of the pancreas, liver and colon, because, he told The Enquirer in July, "It wasn't supposed to happen. It wasn't on the schedule."

In 2005, he led the Cincinnati Pops on its historic tour to China, the first American pops orchestra to tour the mainland. Last summer, he returned to Beijing, to lead the orchestra in concerts at the Summer Olympics, the only American orchestra invited to do so. He later called the invitation "the highlight of my life."

Kunzel made the Cincinnati Pops "the people's orchestra" by taking it out of Music Hall and into the region's public parks. For 38 years, tens of thousands of fans throughout Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana enjoyed their first orchestral experience, listening to Kunzel perform "Star Wars," Strauss waltzes and the "1812 Overture" as they sat on picnic blankets and lawn chairs.

He was a tireless champion for the new School for Creative & Performing Arts, nearing completion in Over-the-Rhine. It is only by the sheer force of his magnetism and influence that the nation's first K-12 performing arts public school will welcome students in the fall of 2010.

Ultimately, Kunzel was a showman, a maestro who refined the art of "razzle dazzle," from his weekly Music Hall concerts to stages around the world.

In 1965, Kunzel, a young assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Max Rudolf, took over the Eight O'clock Pops series, the nation's first pops subscription series in winter. The series in Music Hall became one of the best-attended in the country.

One of his hallmarks was to include Cincinnati talent on the concert stage, including children's choruses, cloggers and musical theater students from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

By the '70s, Kunzel's orchestral pops career had zoomed, and he was in demand from the Hollywood Bowl to the Boston Pops. In 1977, the Cincinnati Symphony trustees established the Cincinnati Pops, made up of members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and named Kunzel its conductor.

For the last two decades, Kunzel had led PBS' nationally televised July Fourth and Memorial Day concerts, conducting the National Symphony Orchestra on the lawn at the U.S. Capitol.

In 2006, Kunzel was awarded the National Medal of Arts in a White House ceremony, the nation's highest honor awarded to artists. He was one of five artists chosen this year to be inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, which has headquarters in Cincinnati.

Kunzel began his conducting career in the opera pit. A month after he graduated in 1957 from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., he made his professional debut conducting Pergolesi's opera "La Serva Padrona," in the first season of Santa Fe Opera. Kunzel also conducted the chorus for Igor Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress," and recalled meeting the composer.

Kunzel made his Cincinnati Opera debut in 1966, conducting "La Traviata," "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacci."

"In my cast for Cavalleria was Martina Arroyo as Santuzza and a young Spanish tenor by the name of Placido Domingo," he recalled in a 2007 Enquirer interview. "So many people liked to see (singers like) Roberta Peters, Beverly Sills and Sherrill Milnes. Norman Treigle came back every year. He was a big Cincinnati favorite. This (Cincinnati) was the only summer company in the United States, until Santa Fe."

As a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music from 1966 through 1972, Kunzel taught orchestral conducting and was the director of the CCM Philharmonia From 1966 to 1968.

He conducted many of the operas directed by opera legend Italo Tajo, who chaired the opera department, including "Prince Igor," which celebrated the opening of the Corbett Auditorium in 1967-68. Together, Tajo and Kunzel created opera at CCM as it is known today.

In recent years, he led "The Merry Widow" with San Francisco Opera, which aired on BBC Worldwide and PBS' "Great Performances" in 2004, and he made his Viennese debut conducting "The Sound of Music" with Vienna's Volksoper in 2005.
He might have stayed in opera, had legendary pops conductor Arthur Fiedler not invited him to guest conduct the Boston Pops in 1970.

Kunzel was born in New York in 1935 to German immigrant parents. He trained as a classical conductor. After graduating from Dartmouth, he earned a master's of arts degree at Brown University, and continued graduate work at Harvard.

He studied for seven summers with Pierre Monteux and was his conducting assistant.

When he arrived in Cincinnati in 1965, Kunzel was learning by fire when Max Rudolf handed him the Eight O'clock Pops, so green, he'd never heard of his first star, jazz great Dave Brubeck.

Back then, only Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops set the standard for programming light classics. Taking the concept a step further, Kunzel recruited major jazz stars for his Cincinnati Pops shows, including Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, when virtually none of them was performing with symphony orchestras.

He had, said trumpeter and former Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinsen, "a vision that grew."

Kunzel ultimately replaced Fiedler as the country's most well-known pops conductor, and became a mentor to a new generation, including the Boston Pops' Keith Lockhart and Steven Reineke, conductor-designate of the New York Pops.

In 1978, Kunzel's Telarc recordings were launched with the now-historic digital recording of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."

His prolific Broadway and Hollywood-themed recordings, as many as four per year in some years, began driving his Music Hall programs. It wasn't long before the nation's orchestras began to follow Kunzel's formula.

Kunzel was known as an excellent arranger, and he adapted many film scores for the Cincinnati Pops. One of those consisted of all six episodes of the "Star Wars" saga, composed by John Williams and arranged into a musical suite for a Riverbend performance.
The show attracted "Star Wars" fans, who arrived in their Darth Vader, Luke and Leia costumes from all over the galaxy.

Over the years, he built his own empire with the Cincinnati Pops. His concerts were extravaganzas with laser lights, indoor fireworks, huge American flags hung low over the orchestra, large casts of singers and dancers and sometimes shamelessly corny kitsch, including live animals, clogging kids, a trumpet-playing robot and musicians in Halloween costumes.

Even in tough economic times, he managed to pack Music Hall, one of the largest concert halls in the world, week after week. It remains one of the best-attended pops series in the nation.

Christmas Music Guru

Rank:Honorary Member

Status: Lawrence F. Arcuri Owner/Webmaster of

RE:Erich Kunzel, Cinci Pops - RIP
(Date Posted:09/02/2009 02:09)

Very nice article; I would only take exception to the paragraph where the author, Janelle Gelfand, states that Erich Kunzel "ultimately replaced Arthur Fiedler as the county's most well-known pops conductor."

While that sentence is probably factually correct, it is so for one simple reason: Arthur Fiedler died. Although she probably didn't mean it, there is an implication in her sentence that Mr. Kunzel surpassed Mr. Fielder as the country's most well-known pops conductor while he was still alive, and that categorically was not the case.

Of the 44 years Mr. Kunzel was with the Cincinnati organization, the first 12 years he was an associate conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Max Rudolf. Then, in 1977, he was named the conductor of the newly created Cincinnati Pops Orchestra -- a title he held for 32 years.   

This compared to The Boston Pops Orchestra, which was created in 1885 (92 years before the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra), and the legendary Arthur Fiedler who, when he died at the age of 84 in 1979, had been the longtime conductor of that organization for an incredible 49 years -- almost half a century.

Adding to Mr. Fiedler's legend is the fact that it was he alone who popularized the masterful works of the great American composer Leroy Anderson, and of course, most importantly, for me and members of this message board, had 3 classic Christmas albums.

It is highly unlikely that anyone will ever come close -- let alone surpass -- Arthur Fiedler's title as the greatest pops conductor the world has ever known.

           Arthur Fiedler             

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Lawrence F. "Chip" Arcuri
Owner/Webmaster | The Yule

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