American Pops Pioneer Erich Kunzel Dead at 74

Classic Arts Features   American Pops Pioneer Erich Kunzel Dead at 74
The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra announced that conductor Erich Kunzel died the morning of Sept. 1 after a four-month battle with cancer of the pancreas, liver and colon. He was 74.\


The maestro had been in Maine receiving treatment. He led the orchestra is his final performance in Cincinnati on August 1.

"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 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.

Mr. Kunzel joined 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 agreed to step in and conduct Maestro Kunzel's concert program paying tribute to composer John Williams with Star Wars actor Anthony Daniels narrating.


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.

Kunzel, who also had a homes in Naples, Fla., and Newport, Ky., is survived by his wife, Brunhilde.

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