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Ansbacher: a final tribute

Between the Lines



A man's dreams are an index to his greatness." — Zadok Rabinowitz

To anyone who lived in Colorado Springs during the idyllic 1970s and '80s, it didn't take long to learn about the city's musical champion.

You'd see Charles Ansbacher at Memorial Park every Fabulous Fourth, in person or on live local TV, hair flying in the summer breeze, leading the Colorado Springs Symphony through Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, exhorting the crowd and thrilling tens of thousands no matter how many times they'd heard it.

You'd catch him conducting the Christmas Pops on Ice, showcasing Broadmoor figure skaters from beginners to Olympians, and even lacing up his own skates to join the kids for the finale. You'd find him at City Council meetings, pushing elected leaders to invest in cultural events and causes. And whenever you thought about classical music here, you thought about the man who saw himself as not just a conductor, but a driving force for making this a better place to live.

Ansbacher spent his adult life turning ideas and dreams into reality. He left his mark on Colorado Springs, then literally around the world, and finally on one of America's most historic cities — Boston.

He belonged to us. But he also belonged to the people wherever he went, giving more of himself at every stop, even in the year after learning he had an inoperable brain tumor. Ansbacher, 67, passed away Sunday night in his Cambridge, Mass., home. He had scoffed at death as long as he could, sharing himself and his music, appreciating the honors and final accolades.

He long ago earned his place on the short list of people who added dimension to our quality of life. Think about the Springs' cultural highlights from the past four decades, including the creation of the Pikes Peak Center, and almost all have Ansbacher's fingerprints covering them.

It never was just a one-man show, either. Ansbacher became one of the Springs' most vibrant personalities, and he loved working with others: Bee Vradenburg, Eddie Shipstad, William Thayer Tutt, Phil Kendall, Kathleen Collins and so many more.

Ansbacher grew up in New England and trained to become a conductor in Cincinnati and Austria. He came to Colorado Springs as an energetic 28-year-old stranger, but soon made his mark with symphony general manager Vradenburg as his strongest ally. They started the July 4 extravaganzas, worked with The Broadmoor in starting Pops on Ice, and embarked on a nearly decade-long saga that finally produced the Pikes Peak Center in 1982.

Behind the scenes, Ansbacher spared no detail in creating world-class acoustics for the building that would house the symphony and visiting performers. He made sure it wasn't just for the elite, bringing in high school bands for festivals.

At 47, Ansbacher needed a new challenge in 1989. So he went to Denver, oversaw the arts-related input on the Denver International Airport's design, and then influenced the building of the downtown Temple Buell Theatre, much as he had done here. Eventually, he would conduct performances in more than 40 countries, but he still came back when opportunities arose.

His grand finale here was the memorable Three Maestri performance by the Philharmonic in February 2009, with Ansbacher joining his successor, Chris Wilkins, and current music director Lawrence Leighton Smith on the stage.Just a few months later, Ansbacher learned of his tumor and its death sentence. But he refused to stop conducting and enjoying life.

Ansbacher's final dream might have been his sweetest. He persuaded the Boston Red Sox to let his 10-year-old Boston Landmarks Orchestra, known for its free concerts, play a July performance at legendary Fenway Park. With 15,000 in the stands, Ansbacher and Wilkins took turns conducting the orchestra, and the Red Sox presented Ansbacher with an authentic jersey.

New ideas. New horizons and venues for classical music. Just like always.

But his impact on Colorado Springs was far too great for eulogies to suffice. We must make sure Charles Ansbacher is remembered, maybe by naming the Pikes Peak Center's main auditorium Ansbacher Hall. And if there's a photo somewhere of Ansbacher, baton in hand, contented smile on his face, that should be prominent.

All we have now are the memories. And we can't let them slip away.

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