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Just in: Orch fires conductor who won’t talk to the boss

Things have just gone from bad to farce at the Rochester Philharmonic, an upstate New York orch that flourished for many years under the conductorship of Christopher Seaman, a British musician. When he retired the season before last, his successor was a Norwegian, Arild Remmereit, a man of strong opinions and little flexibility. Before long, he and chief executive Charles Owes were no longer on speaking terms.

The board, for want of decisive action, sent them both to mediation and relationship counselling (Arild’s the one on  the left of applauding Charles).

That appears to have failed. Arild has now been told his contract will end next summer, two years early. He has got himself a lawyer and is fighting the decision. One of his supporters has withdrawn a million-dollar bequest and a Carnegie Hall date. The town is in uproar. Read all about it.

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Comments

  1. Terry Carlson says:

    According to the article, “no reason was given” for the termination, but he has “invigorated audiences with his focus on women composers and lesser known works, and his energy and innovative programming will be missed,” said board chair (!) Elizabeth F. Rice in a statement. And they are letting him go because he has invigorated audiences? These orchestra boards really have taken leave of their senses.

    An online petition has been started at change.org and the good people of Rochester, NY are hoping for 100 signatures. I think we can do better than that!

    http://www.change.org/petitions/the-board-of-directors-of-the-rochester-philharmonic-orchestra-reinstate-music-director-arild-remmereit-and-give-him-respect-and-support-3

    • Mark Berry says:

      Mark Berry, RPO communications VP here. Here is a post on our blog that outlines the process that the board went through to reach its decision on Mr. Remmereit. I hope you take some time to read it: http://goo.gl/IR9vX

      • They have you working overtime this weekend, Mr. Berry! No surprise there, since the board’s international reputation is currently on a downward spiral, shall we say. But I did read the blog post you referenced and it says: “while the RPO will not identify specific reasons, it is important to provide a reliable description of the background that led to this most difficult decision, and the lengthy process through which the board arrived at it.”

        So, my statement above that “no reason was given” is completely accurate.

        P.S. You might want to edit your comment down below, where you state “a decision not that they took very seriously” — you’re welcome.

        • Terry – You’re so right! The RPO promo person has apparently been tasked to spend his weekend trying to do damage control at various blogs that carry this story. Nice attempt, but you can’t make bricks without straw.

          If Slipped Disc can take a really long comment, I will put up my version of the above press release, with commentary interspersed. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “The fault…lies not with the star, but with our management.”

  2. Liane Curtis says:

    Here is a petition gathering support for Remmereit, he should be a national treasure.
    http://tinyurl.com/cvmppqg

    • As of 1PM Eastern time, the petition carries over 500 signatures, and nearly as many positive comments about Remmereit’s talent, tenure, and effect on ticket and subscription sales in the Western NY community.

  3. I’m surprised that this post has not generated more commentary.

    There are procedures for the evaluation of conductors (usually guests) through various organizations such as ICSOM, OCSM and ROPA. The results can be made available to administrations and boards of orchestras upon written request – and with the complete understanding that the results are confidential and not to be released to anyone outside of their organizations, including the media.

    While input from musicians is important in the context in which it is solicited and adjudicated, any whiff of division within any public organization that is leaked to the press can have disastrous consequences – not only at the box office, but as evidenced in the news article, with donors.

    Obviously, evaluations by musicians of their own music directors can be very delicate, and the results can be interpreted in many different ways. However, I am shocked that the musicians of the RPO voluntarily agreed to participate in an evaluation of their Music Director that was requested by their board and administration, let alone without the guarantee of the confidentiality of the results. The fact that the statistics were freely given to the press, in what appears to be an attempt to justify the early termination of the Music Director’s contract, is crossing a line that should never, NEVER be crossed. I would assume that Mr. Remmereit would have grounds for legal action on this issue alone.

    • I will relay your comments to orchestra members. Check the comments at the Democrat & Chronicle’s page (following the article) to get more of the flavor of what’s going on.

      Be assured that this attempted removal of Maestro Remmereit is not about popularity with orchestra members. There are factions within the orchestra, and some supporters did not fill out the latest survey.

    • Mark Berry says:

      Pacer1: Mark Berry, RPO communications VP here. I believe that you’re referring to mention in a Democrat and Chronicle article about the results of a musicians’ survey. That survey was confidential and was leaked without our consent to the DC. If you’re interested, here’s a post outlining the process that led to the decision to terminate Mr. Remmereit’s contract: http://goo.gl/IR9vX

      • Mark,

        If the survey (one of several BTW) is confidential and was leaked without consent (certainly without the musicians’ consent), then why does it appear prominently in Ms. Rice’s interminable press release as a reason to vote to break Mr. Remmereit’s contract?

  4. Don’t be fooled. The conductor has had great success in Western, NY. Look toward management and its hand-picked (and groomed) board members for the key to this.

    Maestro Remmereit has been garnering audience, fans and praise for his work.

    • Mark Berry says:

      Seen it: Mark Berry, RPO communications VP here. It’s clear that this was a board decision, a decision not that they took very seriously. Here’s a blog post outlining the process: http://goo.gl/IR9vX

  5. A Tawdry Affair •my comments are surrounded by•

    Understanding the Board of Director’s Decision on Arild Remmereit
    From Elizabeth F. Rice, Chairperson of the Board

    (This is the “blog post” referred to by Mr. Berry, with relevant comments.)

    On November 28, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Board of Directors decided that 2012–13 will be Arild Remmereit’s final season as music director of the RPO.

    The RPO is currently working out the details of an agreement with Mr. Remmereit, and discussing such matters would be grossly unfair to everyone involved; it would also be a distinct violation of the RPO’s own human-resources policy. The RPO does not make a habit of airing its personnel matters in public, • then why are you doing it?• and we are saddened and dismayed by people who feel compelled to report rumor and innuendo.

    Understandably, there is significant interest in knowing why the RPO Board of Directors voted to terminate Arild Remmereit’s contract at the end of the 2012–13 season; while the RPO will not identify specific reasons, it is important to provide a reliable description of the background that led to this most difficult decision, and the lengthy process through which the board arrived at it.

    The Background

    Shortly after the RPO appointed Mr. Remmereit to be music director–designate in summer 2010, tensions developed between him and members of the RPO staff •- and would that primary staff member be Mr. Owens?• , board, and orchestra. At the time, board members provided Mr. Remmereit with constructive suggestions to assist in easing the tensions. By the end of Mr. Remmereit’s first season in 2011–12, the situation had only grown worse, despite several efforts by the board to mitigate the situation; the orchestra and staff were suffering •- please take a look at the parade of staff members who left, were laid off, or have been forced out during Mr. Owens tenure. You may find that it’s an unprecedented array of talented and dedicated people, all of whom cared deeply about the RPO’s welfare. Now there’s staff suffering -• , and the matter became of serious concern to the board.

    In April 2012, after repeated attempts to repair the relationship between Mr. Remmereit and the •(or is it primarily between Maestro Remmereit and Mr. Owens, as reported in the media and confirmed by Ms. Rice?)• RPO, the board commissioned Craviso & Associates to identify the underlying problems. As research for the report, Craviso & Associates interviewed Mr. Remmereit as well as people involved with the RPO at all levels.

    The Process

    In June 2012, the board agreed upon and communicated specific expectations for Mr. Remmereit to meet in the wake of the Craviso & Associates report so that the relationship between him and the RPO •- again, do you honestly mean between Maestro Remmereit and the entire organisation?• could be repaired. The board developed a protocol for monitoring his progress, provided Mr. Remmereit with a clear means for communicating with the board, and assigned him an advisor to help ensure success. Mr. Remmereit voluntarily agreed to meet these expectations and to follow the protocol.

    After five months, the board reviewed Mr. Remmereit’s progress—a process that included input from the staff, his advisor, and board members, and a survey of orchestra musicians—and determined that he had not made sufficient effort to meet the agreed upon expectations and work toward repairing his relationship with the • (and again, too broad and disingenuous)• RPO. It was only at this point that the board, after serious consideration of the consequences, took this matter to a vote on November 28, and decided to terminate Mr. Remmereit’s contract.

    Factors Considered

    The decision to terminate Mr. Remmereit’s contract was made through thoughtful deliberation, and with a number of factors being considered, including the following:

    the input and reaction of the musicians •( many of whom were reluctant to return your survey) – what about the results of their own previous survey?•
    the input and reaction of other RPO artistic leaders: Jeff Tyzik, Michael Butterman, and Christopher Seaman • (Why drag Maestro Seaman into this? He has spent next to no time here since he left – just a few days around his birthday)•
    the ability to sustain our operations with competent and capable personnel •(surely you can’t still say that Maestro Remmereit is the cause of that revolving door)•
    the impact on major sponsors and patrons of the RPO
    the reaction of the general public •( as you will see – those in the community who care about the RPO are greatly impressed by him, his talent and outreach)•
    the effect on year-end donations •( Losing $1,100,000 due to Betty Strasenburgh’s outrage at this act is just the beginning, according to others’ comments)•
    After months of trying to remedy the situation, and assessing all of the above, the vast majority of the board agreed that the best option for the long-term future of the RPO was to release Mr. Remmereit from the contract, as the contract permits it to do. Our assessment of these factors has proven to be accurate •- there has been no time to assess you accuracy – it does not include the public outcry -• and we are very comfortable with our decision.

    Moving Forward

    The RPO is more than any one individual. •Yes. It is certainly more than one administrator.• While a music director is the public face of an orchestra, just as important are the musicians who make the music. Our musicians have proven time and again that they can play at the highest artistic level with many different conductors and music directors. •Absolutely true – but Arild has brought musical variety, talent and challenge to the Philharmonic concerts – a welcome change for many orchestra members as well as the public -•

    The RPO has a vibrant pops program and a world-class principal pops conductor in Jeff Tyzik. It presents educational programs under the capable baton of Michael Butterman, and performs many free community concerts that reach 30,000 people each season. • And while they do that, they are continually hammered for financial concessions, which would reduce their modest salaries even more.•

    Mr. Remmereit’s departure does not signal a loss of focus on innovative programming. •The attempt to take his ideas and dump him is not appreciated by the public.• We will be engaging many talented guest conductors in the future as we begin a search for a new music director. •What will be the cost of yet another search and hiring guest conductors as compared to working with the conductor that you hired? Isn’t this even more important to an orchestra which now bears as much as an $1,800,000 deficit?• We are confident we can find someone who will bring passion and energy to the position. •You already have. To expect these characteristics in a musical lapdog is preposterous.• The RPO’s commitment to education, the community, and artistic excellence in music making remains constant. •This seems questionable.• We hope you’ll continue to support our remarkable musicians as so many have done over 90 the past years. •The music and musicians are definitely worth supporting. This destructive management approach is not.•

  6. richard hertz says:

    rochester never flourished. they are not a big entity or particularly notable orchestra in any way.

    they simply existed for awhile, like a zoo might in a second-rate city. some ups and downs, same as everything else.

    • This kind of snobbism makes one who no longer lives in a first tier city gag.

      The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra has flourished, recorded, hired internationally revered conductors, and has survived 90 years, which, unfortunately is more than can be said of many first tier orchestras today.

      We may not be top tier, but we are also home to a first-rate music school, The Eastman School of Music. We certainly are not a zoo, but do use our outreach to support our zoo and many other community organisations. We are one of a handful of orchestras with an education conductor and a youth orchestra, and are committed to encouraging and teaching next generation’s musicians and listeners.

      Finally, our musicians, should they choose to advance, hold seats in top tier orchestras all over the world.

      Shame on you, Mr. Hertz

      • richard hertz says:

        what you say is true for damn near every professional orchestra anywhere. not every orchestra is a precious and unique snowflake. I’m just tired of things becoming sacred merely because they exist.

        get some perspective. i don’t blame the musicians for leaving rochester in any case, i’ve never heard a single person liking it there, or have ever heard of rpo coming up in a conversation unrelated to them closing shop.

        • Phillip J Lederer says:

          The music directors in the past include: Leinsdorf, Zinman, and (Mark) Elder. There have been times when the orchestra has been led by first tier artists.

    • I wonder if Richard Hertz is really Drew in disguise, an uneducated troller who fancies himself as a towering musical mind. The choice of words and tone of the post are identical to Drew’s blog postings and his rants on Mr Lebrecht’s Minnesota Orchestra threads.

      • Anonymous:

        I cede to your knowledge of trolls. This person certainly did not read what I wrote about the RPO. “every professional orchestra” is not firmly planted in a community that has a first-rate music school like ESM.

        And every orchestra IS precious to the community that supports them.

        With nearly 1 million people living in the greater Rochester area (including musicians), they may not speak to the troll, but most are happy to live here.

        Finally, I don’t trust the words of anyone who alleges to be knowledgeable but is too lazy to use capital letters (except for e.e. cummings.)

  7. NotAJournalist says:

    Interesting no one has yet commented on the track record of Craviso and Co. in labor negotations over the past decade or two-Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Seattle, etc.

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