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Erich Kunzel
Erich Kunzel

"The world has lost a musical giant and we have lost a dear friend." Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra President Trey Devey speaks for all of us in his statement.

Erich Kunzel, the longtime conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Pops — he ruled the podium for 44 years — died this morning at a hospital in Bar Harbor, Maine, near his home on Swan’s Island.

In late April Kunzel was diagnosed with pancreatic, liver and colon cancer. "It wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t on the schedule," was his response.

Kunzel was famous as one of the world’s busiest conductors, and he refused to let the disease halt his music making. Even as he was undergoing first one round and then another of chemotherapy, he maintained a full schedule.

However, Kunzel appeared drawn and thinner on the first of August (2009), when he conducted his last Cincinnati Pops Orchestra concert at Riverbend Music Center. Kunzel handed the baton to associate conductor Steven Reineke for the first half of the concert. He then led the remainder of the program from a stool onstage, with Reineke close by.

Among Erich Kunzel’s many legacies in Cincinnati are the Pops’ 38 year series of public park concerts. Through these performances, Kunzel introduced thousands of Cincinnati area residents to classical music.

Kunzel also recognized that young people are the future of classical music. He took a personal interest in promoting the now nearly finished School for Creative & Performing Arts, the nation’s first K-12 performing arts public school. It’s set to open in the fall of 2010. And his last recording, just released by Telarc Records, showcases soloists — and even a composer — under the age of 20.

Kunzel was a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music from 1966 through 1972, where he taught orchestral conducting.

The Cincinnati Pops has set up a memorial Web page, and is accepting cards and notes for Kunzel’s family. Write to Cincinnati Symphony, 1241 Elm Street, Cincinnati OH 45202.

Erich Kunzel is survived by his wife of 44 years, Brunhilde.

Further reading:

Erich Kunzel dies at 74 at the Cincinnati Enquirer

Erich Kunzel’s website

Review of Erich Kunzel’s Last Concert at the Cincinnati Enquirer

Erich Kunzel Tribute Page at the Cincinnati Pops

Discussion of Erich Kunzel’s Health at Film Score Monthly’s Message Board

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2 Responses to “Erich Kunzel, 1935-2009”

  1. Erich Kunzel « The ClevelandClassical.com Blog Says:

    [...] WKSU: Erich Kunzel, 1935-2009 [...]

  2. susan benjamin Says:

    When I was at Brown I sang in the Pembroke Glee Club, which Erich (yes, that is what we called him) conducted. He was inspiring, delightful and brought out the best in each of us–creating a glee club that sounded awfully good. I treasure the lifelong love of music he instilled in me. And, how lucky, that I subsequently got to walk across the street from where we live, opposite Ravinia Park in Highland Park, to watch him conduct on warm summer evenings. So my college experience was just the beginning–

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