Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Conductor, Dead At 74

Erich Kunzel, the founder and conductor emeritus of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, has died of cancer. He was 74 years old.

The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra has issued an official statement which we bring you below:

The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra is deeply saddened to announce that conductor Erich Kunzel died this morning after a four-month battle with cancer of the pancreas, liver and colon. The seventy-four year old conductor of the Cincinnati Pops had been in Maine receiving treatment. He led the orchestra in 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 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.

The Cincinnati Pops has launched a special memorial webpage where the public is encouraged to view photos from Maestro Kunzel's celebrated 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.

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.

"Erich Kunzel was a musician who dared to dream in a realm that respected the basic structure of a great symphonic orchestra, yet challenged the boundaries of its entertainment possibilities," said Cincinnati Pops Orchestra violist Paul Frankenfeld. "Whether exploring the subtleties of a Beethoven symphony for a concert in Eden Park or jumping around the Music Hall stage surrounded by exploding pumpkins in a Halloween television production, Maestro Kunzel reached out to audiences in Cincinnati, throughout the U.S., and abroad, making them part of his fantasy world built upon great music. Despite the enormous success of all the Cincinnati Pops recordings sold worldwide, Erich's greatest dream continues to unfold with the impending opening of the the new School for Creative and Performing Arts. As we mourn the passing of Erich Kunzel, the musicians of the orchestra embrace his wife, Brunhilde, as well those in his extended family. We celebrate Erich's life for the imagination he provided us, as well as his inspiration that enabled us to realize our own dreams."

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, marking his ascent as a modern orchestral legend. The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, part of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was then officially founded in 1977 with Maestro Kunzel at the helm. For decades he led the orchestra, packing houses in Cincinnati's Music Hall and Riverbend Music Center, most recently on August 1, and also gaining new fans the world over through tour performances, PBS television specials and millions of recordings sold on the Telarc label.

"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 led the Cincinnati Pops on tours that include many concerts in Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, the Grand Ol' Opry in Nashville, and at the Blossom Music Festival. The numerous international tours included a celebrated tour to China in 2005 (the first appearance of a pops orchestra in that country), highlighted by concerts in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. 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. By 1970, when Arthur Fiedler invited him to conduct the Boston Pops for the first time, Mr. Kunzel's commitment to "pops" was assured.

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. He was honored with the President's Award from the Public Relations Society of America's Cincinnati Chapter in June of 2009, and in 2006 with the Irma Lazarus Award from the Ohio Arts Council. He received the 1994 Presidential Medal for Outstanding Leadership and Achievement from Dartmouth College, his alma mater, and in 2006 he was elected into Phi Beta Kappa, America's oldest Honor Society. Dartmouth College honored him in June 2007 with the Honorary Doctor of Arts degree. He also received honorary degrees from University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, College of Mount St. Joseph, Wilmington College and Northern Kentucky University. He was named by the Ohio Arts Council as a special recipient of the 1991 Governor's Awards for the Arts in Ohio. In 1995, Mr. Kunzel received the 1995 Salvation Army "Others" award in recognition of his contributions to the city of Cincinnati, the same year that the Cincinnati MacDowell Society honored his contributions to the arts community by awarding him the MacDowell Medal. In 1996 the Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity presented him with its Distinguished Alumnus Award in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the performing arts.

Maestro Kunzel was also Chair of the Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center, an organization whose plan to build a new School for the Creative and Performing Arts adjacent to Music Hall will be complete in 2010.

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. Jack Everly, Principal Pops Conductor of the Baltimore and Indianapolis symphony orchestras, Naples Philharmonic Orchestra and National Arts Centre Orchestra (Ottawa) has graciously agreed to step in and conduct Maestro Kunzel's concert program paying tribute to composer John Williams with Star Wars actor Anthony Daniels narrating.

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

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