Erich Kunzel, the award-winning conductor who headed the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra since it was founded three decades ago, died Tuesday at the age of 74. His distinguished career is personified by his 2006 National Medal of Arts, presented by President and Mrs. Bush in a ceremony in the Oval Office at The White House. He had led the National Symphony on the Capitol lawn in nationally televised Memorial Day and Independence Day concerts since 1991, most recently this year in a July 4th concert featuring Aretha Franklin.
Born in New York City to German-American immigrant parents, Kunzel was educated at Dartmouth, Harvard and Brown universities, and he studied with the great French conductor Pierre Monteux. He began his conducting career with the Santa Fe Opera Company, followed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra before his appointment to the newly-formed Cincinnati Pops Orchestra in 1977.
Kunzel is possibly best-known for his award-winning recordings. Beginning in 1977, he recorded over 85 albums on the Telarc label with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. More than 55 of these albums have appeared on the Top 10 Billboard Charts. Several Grammy Awards, the distinguished Grand Prix du Disque, and the Sony Tiffany Walkman Award for “visionary recording activities” highlight his fantastic recording career of over 125 albums. In May 2009 he was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.
His career-long support for music education was unwavering. As Chairman of the Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center, he helped the organization to build a new School for the Creative and Performing Arts adjacent to Music Hall, home of the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestras, which will be complete in 2010.
Stanton’s Sheet Music is proud to call Ohio our home, and we salute Erich Kunzel for his inspiring musical career and the way he brought Ohio musicians to the world stage.