Erich Kunzel

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Erich Kunzel
Erich Kunzel (left) receives the 2006 National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush (right) at a 2007 ceremony.
Erich Kunzel (left) receives the 2006 National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush (right) at a 2007 ceremony.
Background information
Born(1935-03-21)March 21, 1935
New York City, United States
DiedSeptember 1, 2009(2009-09-01) (aged 74)
Bar Harbor, Maine, United States

Erich Kunzel Jr. (March 21, 1935 – September 1, 2009) was an American orchestra conductor. Called the "Prince of Pops" by the Chicago Tribune,[1][2] he performed with a number of leading pops and symphony orchestras, and led the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (CPO) for 32 years.

Early life and career[edit]

Kunzel was born to German-American immigrant parents in New York City. At Greenwich High School in Connecticut, he arranged music and played the piano, string bass and timpani. Initially a chemistry major, Kunzel graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in music, where he was a member of Phi Delta Theta, then studied at Harvard and Brown universities.[3] He conducted the Brown University Glee Club for at least two years. Early in his career, he conducted for the Santa Fe Opera and studied at the Pierre Monteux School.[4] He met his Austrian-born wife, Brunhilde, while conducting Gianni Schicchi for Santa Fe in 1964, and they married a year later.[5] From 1960 to 1965, he conducted the Rhode Island Philharmonic. From 1965 to 1977, Kunzel served as resident conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO).[3]

In 1969, he was initiated as an honorary member of the Eta-Omicron chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. He was also a National Patron of Delta Omicron, an international professional music fraternity.[6]

The Pops[edit]

In 1965, Kunzel began the country's first winter pops series, the "8 O'Clock Pops". When the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra board of trustees created the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra in 1977, Kunzel was named conductor. The Pops became the larger of Cincinnati's two orchestras, as all of Max Rudolf's symphony orchestra also played for the Pops year-round. At the invitation of Arthur Fiedler in 1970, Kunzel guest-conducted over 100 concerts with the Boston Pops Orchestra.[3] He remained active with symphony, leading the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (as Principal Pops Conductor) from 1982 to 2002.

From the beginning, Kunzel strove to expand the Cincinnati Pops' reach worldwide, with nearly 90 recordings on the Telarc label,[3] most of which became bestsellers. His popular recordings of classical music, Broadway musicals, and movie scores topped worldwide crossover charts more than any other conductor or orchestra in the world. Some of Kunzel's mentees at the Cincinnati Pops would later become notable in their own right, including Keith Lockhart of the Boston Pops and Steven Reineke of The New York Pops.[4]

The Cincinnati Pops were especially popular in Asia. The group toured Japan several times, starting in 1990. In 1998, Kunzel became the first American pops conductor to perform in China. Ten years later, he and the Cincinnati Pops were invited back to perform at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing; they were the only American orchestra to play at the event.[7]

Kunzel made most of his classical music recordings as director of the Cincinnati Pops. However, he also made jazz recordings with Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, and other well-known artists. From the Capitol Building lawn, Kunzel conducted the National Symphony Orchestra every Memorial Day and Fourth of July from 1991 to 2009, in concerts televised nationwide on PBS.[4] In 1987, his Aaron Copland: Lincoln Portrait (CD-80117) album with narration by Katharine Hepburn including Old American Songs sung by Sherrill Milnes received a Grammy nomination. Other Grammy nominations came in 1989 (A Disney Spectacular), 1991 (Meredith Willson's The Music Man), and 1993 (Amen!--A Gospel Celebration). The album American Jubilee won the Grand Prix du Disque in 1989. His albums frequently feature digital sound effects created by Michael Bishop.

The conductor had a large influence on Cincinnati's local music scene. In addition to conducting almost weekly subscription concerts with the Cincinnati Pops, he expanded the Pops program in 1984 to include a summer concert series at the newly built Riverbend Music Center on the banks of the Ohio River. He pushed for a new campus to house the city's public School for Creative and Performing Arts. He invited many local performers, including children's choruses and College-Conservatory students, to share the stage with the Pops.[4]

The recording engineer for Kunzel's recording of music by Copland earned a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album, Classical in 1998, for Copland: The Music of America,[7] Kunzel earned the 2006 National Medal of Arts. In 2009, he was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, based in Cincinnati.[4]

On June 20–21, 2008, Kunzel conducted The Toronto Symphony Orchestra's performance of Star Trek: The Music at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.

Last days[edit]

In April 2009, Kunzel was diagnosed with pancreatic, liver and colon cancer and received chemotherapy treatments in Cincinnati.[8] He conducted a final concert at Riverbend on August 1, 2009, and died a month later in Bar Harbor, Maine, near his home at Swan's Island.[4] That day, the CSO board of trustees posthumously named him "Founder and Conductor Emeritus" of the Pops.[4]


Decca recordings with the Cincinnati Symphony:

MCA recordings with the Cincinnati Symphony:

Turnabout recordings with the Cincinnati Pops:

  • American Fantasia (1978)
  • Pomp & Circumstance (1978)
  • A Portrait Of George: Gershwin On Broadway & In Hollywood (1979)
  • Jacques Offenbach - Overtures (1979)

Caedmon recordings with the Cincinnati Pops:

Telarc recordings with the Cincinnati Symphony:

MMG recordings:

Vox Prima recordings with the Cincinnati Pops:

  • Dances from the Opera (1983)

Vox Cum Laude recordings with the Cincinnati Pops:

  • Music Of Waldteufel (1983)
  • An International Salute (1984)
  • Jacques Offenbach: Concerto Rondo; Four Orchestral Pieces featuring Ofra Harnoy, Philip Collins (1984)
  • Peaches And Cream - John Philip Sousa Dances And Marches (1984)
  • Jacques Offenbach – Vive La France! [2 disc compilation] (1994)

Fanfare recordings with The Winnipeg Symphony:

Telarc recordings with the Cincinnati Pops:

Pro Arte recordings with the Rochester Pops

  • Christmas At The Pops (Leroy Anderson; Georges Bizet; Victor Herbert; Leopold Mozart; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Mark Leontovich [Mykola Leontovich]; Emil Waldteufel; Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Johann Strauss II; Felix Bernard) (1985)
  • Syncopated Clock (And Other Favorites By Leroy Anderson) (1986) (issued in Japan as The Typewriter Song)
  • Ties & Tails. Music Of Duke Ellington And George Gershwin (1986)
  • A Night At The Pops (1987) (reissued on FirstChoice in 1991)
  • An Enchanted Evening ...The Music Of Richard Rodgers (1987)

PAR recordings with the Houston Symphony

  • Gerry Mulligan: Symphonic Dreams (1987)

Telarc recordings with Naples Philharmonic Orchestra

See also[edit]

  • Paavo Järvi, Kunzel's counterpart at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
  • John Morris Russell, Kunzel's successor at the Cincinnati Pops, named in December 2010.


  1. ^ Osborne, William (2004). Music in Ohio. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. p. 225. ISBN 0-87338-775-9. Retrieved 2009-09-02. Kunzel, first associated with the Cincinnati Symphony in 1965, has been dubbed the Prince of Pops, a Midwestern Arthur Fiedler with a far-flung career still centered in Cincinnati.
  2. ^ "2006 National Medal of Arts – Erich Kunzel" (Press release). National Endowment for the Arts. 2007-11-16. Archived from the original on 2010-05-30. Retrieved 2009-09-02.
  3. ^ a b c d Wissmuller, Christian (January 21, 2008). "Conversations With...The Prince of Pops". School Band & Orchestra. Needham, Massachusetts: Symphony Publishing. Archived from the original on September 7, 2009. Retrieved September 2, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Gelfand, Janelle (2009-09-01). "Erich Kunzel dies at 74". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Cincinnati, Ohio: Gannett Company. [Kunzel] died Tuesday [September 1] at about 10 a.m. in Bar Harbor, Maine, near his home on Swan's Island ... Kunzel's final public appearance was with his own Cincinnati Pops Orchestra at Riverbend Music Center on Aug. 1, [in] the outdoor venue that he and the orchestra had christened in 1984.... He was a tireless champion for the new School for Creative & Performing Arts, nearing completion in Over-the-Rhine. It is 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.... One of his hallmarks was to include local talent on the concert stage – children's choruses, cloggers and musical theater students from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.... Kunzel has 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.... 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.... He was conducting assistant to legendary French conductor Pierre Monteux.... Kunzel ... became a mentor to a new generation, including the Boston Pops' Keith Lockhart and the New York Pops' Steven Reineke.
  5. ^ Doane, Kathleen (December 2005). "Maestro Minutia". Cincinnati Magazine. Retrieved 2011-12-21.
  6. ^ Delta Omicron Archived January 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b "Timeline: Erich Kunzel through the years". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Cincinnati, Ohio: Gannett Company. 2009-09-01. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 1998 – Kunzel is the first conductor to present a symphonic pops concert in China when he guest-conducts the China National Symphony in Beijing. The Pops and Telarc win a Grammy for 'Copland: Music of America.' ... 2008 – The Beijing Organizing Committee invites Kunzel and the Pops to perform two concerts during opening weekend of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the only American orchestra invited.
  8. ^ Gelfand, Janelle (2009-05-01). "Kunzel diagnosed with cancer". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Cincinnati, Ohio: Gannett Company. The 74-year-old Cincinnati Pops conductor was diagnosed on Wednesday [April 29] with pancreatic, liver and colon cancer and will be undergoing chemotherapy treatment in Cincinnati.


  • "Erich Kunzel" in Contemporary Musicians. Vol. 17. Gale Research, 1996.
  • Thierstein. "Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra". In L. Macy (ed.). Grove Music Online. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved February 4, 2006.

External links[edit]