Thursday, March 5, 2015

Shirley Verrett And Henry Lewis Early Supporter Passes Away

Champion For Music: Sylvia Kunin, seen here in 2014, provided support for numerous in the classical world.
"In 1955, Sylvia Kunin founded the Young Musicians Foundation in Los Angeles that provided support and a showcase for budding classical-music talents — including conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, guitarist Christopher Parkening and soprano Shirley Verrett — long before they were world-famous....Kunin, 101, died Feb. 12 in a Seattle retirement community. She had had a recent fall and was in declining health, said her son, Barry Eben. The YMF is still going strong. Other musicians who got an early boost not only from the foundation but also from classical music television shows Kunin hosted beginning in the early 1950s include violinists Misha Dichter and Glenn Dicterow, conductors Lawrence Foster and Henry Lewis and cellist Nathaniel
Michael Tilson Thomas with Sylvia Kunin in earlier days
Rosen....'She was a very diminutive figure, but her energy was colossal,' Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, said in an interview this week. The YMF orchestra was his first, at 20, as music director. 'One minute she could be very charming, even flirtatious, and the next she would belt out, 'Oh, c'mon!' if she sensed any of the grandiosity that can come with classical music.' She was not just a fan of the music. Kunin was a piano prodigy who won
Early photo of Young Musicians Foundation with Shirley Verrett in the front center
competitions and studied with Artur Schnabel in prewar Europe. The fact that her career faltered helped fuel her drive to pave the way for others....In 1954 came her follow-up show, Debut, with musicians competing for $1,000 scholarships. To lead the show's orchestra, she hired Henry Lewis, a double-bass player in the Los Angeles Philharmonic who had long wanted to conduct but was not getting opportunities. 'The podium was a long way away for a little black kid growing up in Los Angeles,' he told The Times in 1985. Kunin gave Lewis, who went on to a long career conducting at the Metropolitan Opera and other venues, the chance. 'Sylvia was always interested in finding someone who had something special to say,' said Lewis, who died in
Conductor Henry Lewis with his then wife
opera singer Marilyn Horne
1996....She and her husband, actor Al Eben, moved to Hawaii, where he had a recurring role as the medical officer in the TV series Hawaii Five-0. While there she started a new TV program featuring student musicians, Musical Encounters, for distribution to schools and showings on public television. It continued when she and her husband returned to L.A. in 1975. After Al Eben died in 2003, she moved to Seattle to be closer to her son and his family. The production of Musical Encounters continued there and at the end of the last show, featuring a young soprano in 2012, surprise tributes from Thomas, Parkening and others were read. Kunin, then 99, stood and addressed the audience in a still-strong voice. 'I'm glad I was able to live this long,' she said. 'I really feel very lucky. You can't be luckier.'" [Source] Learn more about the YMF by clicking here. Watch a wonderful video of Sylvia Kunin from March 2014 about the creation of the Young Musicians Foundation.

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