Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Erich Kunzel, backstage in Buffalo

This morning I heard that superstar pops conductor Erich Kunzel had died and I feel bad for a number of reasons. First of all I know his godson. His godson's name is Len Hoeglmeier and Len used to be the bartender at the Lafayette Tap Room in downtown Buffalo. Len was the greatest bartender and we used to go to the Tap Room for lunch just so we could sit and joke around with him. One day when I was interviewing Erich Kunzel, Len casually mentioned the maestro was his godfather.

Sure enough, he was! Kunzel came to town and Len was backstage with him at Kleinhans Music Hall, hanging out. Len gave me the best story about Erich Kunzel for the Buzz column which is the gossip, around-town column I write for The Buffalo News.

What happened was, Kunzel was standing backstage after conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and a guy walks up to him and slips a note into his hand.

Kunzel unfolds the note, with Len looking alertly over his shoulder.

And the note reads: "To the best German conductor, for the best German meats, shop at Erich Spar's European Sausage and Meats, 451 Amherst Street."

Ha, ha! A commercial break!! You cannot beat Buffalo. People here are crazy. But Spar's is a very good sausage shop and I do hope that Kunzel got to taste some of their delicacies. His wife would have liked them too. Her name was Brunhilde. I always remember that.

Kunzel's concerts had a lot of pizazz and with his flash and big crescendos, he was good at making the case for even kitschy stuff like "Time to Say Goodbye." After the concerts he would go out and you could walk up to him and say hi. He was not one of those artists who are mean to the public, which, I cannot stand those artists. Kunzel was not only nice, he was fun.

Oddly enough he was not a good interview, at least in my experience. He did not want to own up to opinions, is what I remember. You would ask him what composers he especially enjoyed and he would not go in that direction at all.

"I listen to all kinds of music." That was all he would say.

When people say that to you don't you just want to shake them? Well, maybe he was cagey about that because he conducted so many things like "Time To Say Goodbye" and he did not want the audience to get the idea at all that maybe he liked Beethoven better. Pops conductors are in a funny situation.

Now that it is time to say goodbye to Kunzel, it makes me nostalgic. They are a vanishing breed, this elegant, superstar pops conductor. I am sitting here trying to think of who will be the next Erich Kunzel.

And I cannot think of anyone.

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