Thursday, August 05, 1999

Kunzel to conduct in hero's hometown

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The marches, polkas and waltzes of Vienna's musical Strauss family are close to the heart of Erich Kunzel.

        “The first sounds I imagine I heard in the cradle were Strauss waltzes,” says the Cincinnati Pops conductor.

        But, even though he has made two Strauss albums (Straussfest I and Straussfest II) and three Viennese discs with the Pops, Mr. Kunzel has never conducted in Vienna, home of the “Waltz King” Johann Strauss Jr.

        That will change on Sept. 20, when Mr. Kunzel makes his debut in Vienna's illustrious concert hall, the Grosser Saal (large hall) of the gilded Musikverein. He will share the podium with Austrian conductor Peter Guth for “America's Salute to Vienna,” a Strauss-Gershwin anniversary gala, to be televised live on Austrian Television.

        The concert honors Strauss and George Gershwin, because says Mr. Kunzel, “we just celebrated Gershwin's 100th birthday (in 1998) and Strauss died 100 years ago.”

        The gala will also include music by operetta composer Franz Lehar and Americans Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

        Actor Gregory Peck is slated to narrate Copland's A Lincoln Portrait, and will serve as the American host. The unprecedented event joining Viennese and American artists will also have an Austrian host.

        Singing together for the first time, the Vienna Choir Boys and the Boys Choir of Harlem will join in numbers such as “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.” Soloists include Americans soprano Elizabeth Norman and tenor Paul Groves, and sopranos Eva Lind and Martina Serafin, tenor Herbert Lippert and baritone Georg Lehner of the Vienna State Opera.

        They'll be backed by the Strauss Festival Orchestra, which was founded 20 years ago by Mr. Guth, a Strauss specialist.

        The debut is important to Mr. Kunzel, who often speaks of his German heritage, and whose wife, Brunhilde, is a native of Austria.

        “I've never conducted in Austria at all — certainly never in the music capital of the world, Vienna,” he says. “I'm looking forward to having a sacher torte in Vienna's Hotel Sacher!”

        The tribute will be taped for video and CD release in North America this fall.

        The Musikverein is the venue for the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Concert, televised annually to 1.2 billion people. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performed there on its European tour in 1995.


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