Erich Kunzel, the award-winning conductor who headed the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra since it was founded three decades ago and who won international fame through sales of more than 10 million recordings, has died. He was 74.
Kunzel was diagnosed with liver, colon and pancreatic cancer in April, but continued conducting while undergoing treatment. He died Tuesday morning at a hospital near his home in Swan's Island, Maine, said Chris Pinelo, a spokesman for the Cincinnati Pops.
On July 4, Kunzel conducted a concert at the U.S. Capitol with Aretha Franklin. He had led the National Symphony on the Capitol lawn in nationally televised Memorial Day and Independence Day concerts since 1991.
This year, he also conducted a concert in Beijing, where he and the Cincinnati Pops last year performed in opening festivities for the Summer Olympics.
Kunzel also led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops in many performances.
Born in New York City, Kunzel was educated at Dartmouth, Harvard and Brown universities and began his professional conducting career in 1957 with the Santa Fe Opera. He came to Cincinnati in 1965 as assistant conductor to Max Rudolf, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's former music director. The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra was officially established in 1977 with Kunzel as conductor.
The Cincinnati classical pops ensemble has been one of the most active in the world, maintaining a year-round performing and recording schedule and making numerous television appearances. Kunzel recorded more than 125 albums and was named Billboard Magazine's Classical Crossover Artist of the Year for four consecutive years.
Kunzel received the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush in 2006 for outstanding contributions to the arts and was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
Kunzel is survived by his wife, Brunhilde.
Maintaining a crowded agenda at an energetic pace throughout his career, Kunzel told The Cincinnati Enquirer in an interview in July that he was stunned by his cancer diagnosis.
"It wasn't on the schedule," he said.