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Fired music director: a violinist breaks ranks

To Those Who Care About the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra:

I am deeply concerned about the fate of the RPO. We have been through many rocky periods over the years, but recent events appear to represent an existential threat to the organization.

I am writing to shed light on what I believe may be the reason our beloved Music Director, Arild Remmereit, was fired. I have decided to address the public despite my fear of reprisal from the Musicians’ Union and RPO Management. I know that I have the support of many colleagues. I have encouraged them to speak out, but almost all of them are simply too frightened to do so. I understand this fear. I have retained an attorney to protect me.

Back when Arild was Music Director Designate, rumors started flying around the organization alleging that he had engaged in some very nasty and off-the-wall behavior. During his tenure with the RPO new rumors kept piling up. Many of my colleagues and I were confused because we had seen nothing from Arild but warmth and charm. He is an honorable and decent man. Then long-time RPO benefactress Betty Strasenburgh described an incident that shed light on the situation. She told me that in August of 2011 she invited RPO CEO Charlie Owens to her home. Arild had complained to her that Mr. Owens was working against him. Sitting at Betty’s dining room table with Eugene VanVoorhis in attendance, Mr. Owens stated about Arild, “I will have him out in one year.”

The veracity of claims by the RPO Board that Arild’s behavior over the last 16 or so months led to his termination must be evaluated in light of Mr. Owens’ August, 2011 statement that he intended to have Arild fired.

I have witnessed and heard about some pretty poor behavior from past Music Directors. One threw his baton at a musician and another told the viola section they sounded like pigs. I have seen nothing from Arild Remmereit that even comes close to these things. I can find no valid reason he was fired. It seems evident from what Mr. Owens said that he wanted to get rid of Arild from the start. What I cannot understand is why the RPO Board leadership went along with this. They must have realized what a terrible backlash there would be from the legions of fans who adore Arild. Why did they support Mr. Owens in his ruinous agenda? To me, this is the great mystery of the situation.

Until this is fully investigated and resolved, I do not foresee any healing at the RPO.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra belongs to the community. It belongs to our audiences. It belongs to the children whom we teach. It would be a tragedy if the RPO fell because of the egos and personal agendas of individuals. I hope that the many RPO supporters will make their feelings known and act now to ensure the continuing health of Rochester’s great orchestra.

David Brickman
RPO Principal Second Violinist since 1989

 

See also here.

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Comments

  1. David

    your courage is recognized and appreciated. I am wondering if the proposed [redacted] inappropriate behavior by Mr. Remmereit is provable but is information privately held by the board or rather portions of it as is usually the case.

    The are so many leaders of music who are…considered off the wall…..all I care about is that they behave respectfully on the podium and make VERY good music. Respect unfortunately is often missing and the lack of respect often encouraged as a means to whipping the musicians one way or another…..

    Again your courage is appreciated. Here in Saint Paul I have had a letter I wrote to the SPCO board printed in the local paper at great risk. You can count on a bit of bashing for bringing this out, but your integrity is a lot more important than some people who generally know little about the arts but work hard at embarrassing you for exposing your version of truth. I may send my article to this blog.
    thanks David!

    • @Chris said, ” I am wondering if the proposed lewd or inappropriate behavior by Mr. Remmereit is provable but is information privately held by the board or rather portions of it as is usually the case.”

      This statement comes across as an insinuation and as there was no reference to such in @David’s post, should we not ask what your point is in injecting this into the dialogue?

      • AJ Marini says:

        If I may be so bold as to take a guess, I don’t think “Chris” is insinuating that David said anything, rather that this is one of many reasons that was floated as to why his contract was terminated. Not many details have been provided as to the exact reason of the termination, hence why he asks if some of the anti-Remmereit proposals could be provable.

        I think people are reading too much into Chris’ comment…

        • @AJ Marini said, “I don’t think “Chris” is insinuating that David said anything…”

          I don’t think so either.

          The question for me was whether or not @Chris, who is a player and has access to inside information, might be intimating something that he himself had heard. But per his recent post, that was apparently not the case.

    • Chris says, “all I care about is that they behave respectfully on the podium and make VERY good music.”

      Chris, I hope you care that they behave respectfully off the podium as well – to the administrative staff and to the musicians outside of rehearsals and performances.

      David, do you or your colleagues know anything about Arild’s relationship with the administrative staff other than Mr. Owens?

      • Oh yes, they do.

        And they’ve also noticed the unprecedented, repeated turnover of the administrative staff during Mr. Owens entire tenure, even before Maestro Remmereit took the podium. Whatever the latest version of the staff is, they are Mr. Owens people.

        Once again, must it be pointed out that great conductors do not color inside the lines? Some are famously rude, yet those around them take it with a grain of salt, for they were hired to inspire and lead great musical performances, and to bring the best out in their musicians.

        If a team player is what you desire, check in at (what’s left) of Kodak. See if there are any still employed.

        • For what it’s worth, IMHO great artistry does not excuse bad behavior.

          In the absolute best case, great artistry might make it worth reluctantly tolerating a certain level of bad behavior – if rejecting the bad behavior means you simply will never benefit from the artistry (or comparable artistry from a properly mature and socialized individual). But grown-ups should behave like grown-ups.

          • To take an extreme example, I think firing Kathleen Battle was the most important thing Joe Volpe ever did.

          • Totally agree. The necessary action was partly disabled by the ambivalence of his music director, who accompanied her at Carnegie Hall soon after.

          • Honestly, MWnyc, even the biggest exaggerations of the behavior cited does not fall into that category.

            Maestro Remmereit was “set up” to be removed from the start. His so-called brusque remarks are mostly related to drawing the best out of the orchestra sections. Sensitivity to any behavior or remarks by the Maestro was heightened from the start by telling staff and musicians to report any expected bad behavior.

            Mr. Brickman tells the truth.

            And if grownups should be grownups, then responsible management should not kill musical excellence by enlisting musicians and staff as spies and rumor-mongers.

          • Don’t worry, Mr. Seen, I’m not talking about Arild Remmereit, as I have no idea how he did or didn’t behave in Rochester.

            Your “must it be pointed out that great conductors do not color inside the lines?” paragraph was stated as a general principle, and I responded with a general principle.

            And, speaking for myself, my expectation that artists behave like grownups goes double for executives (in business as well as the arts). The only difference that leaps to mind is that, while some folks may tolerate the appalling behavior of executives (out of fear or of respect, if that’s the word, for the money they make), folks rarely excuse that appalling behavior as the equivalent of “artistic temperament”.

          • MWnyc,

            I respect your perspective.

            I am, understandably, most concerned with the challenges we face here in Western NY. Even his enemies have never publicly called any of Maestro Remmereit’s behavior ‘appalling.’ Let’s reserve that extreme word for the actions of others in this unfortunate situation.

          • Yes, based on what I’ve read, I can certainly see where the word might apply.

            Speaking of appalling, if you need a bright side (or at least a less dark one) to look on, at least you’re not dealing with the situation in Minneapolis.

  2. To think that such chicanery may have motivated this dreadful situation leaves me (almost) speechless. You have hit on the major concern, IMO — @David Brickman, when you ask how the RPO Board leadership could be enticed down such an obviously destructive avenue by the persuasive words of just one person. Is that really all it takes to tear the heart out of an orchestra and leave it in divided camps? No code of ethics, no specific infringement of a contract, and, apparently, no accountability?

  3. Yes, Mr Lebrecht please modify the commenter here who is insinuating something that was never charged, to my knowledge, by any parties in the case.

    • Please specify. I can’t find such a comment.

      • @musiker may be thinking of this statement that @Chris made in a comment in this thread, ” I am wondering if the proposed lewd or inappropriate behavior by Mr. Remmereit is provable but is information privately held by the board or rather portions of it as is usually the case.”

      • I hesitate to even copy this again, since it is TOTALLY INCORRECT!

        Chris, above :’ I am wondering if the proposed lewd or inappropriate behavior by Mr. Remmereit is provable but is information privately held by the board or rather portions of it as is usually the case.’

        Such a remark has NEVER been made about Maestro Remmereit. This kind of behavior has been attributed to a management person. See Dr. Curtis’ change.org petition calling for management firing.

      • Brickman’s original posting refers to: “alleging that he had engaged in some very nasty and off-the-wall behavior”.

        Chris in commenting on the original post writes ” the proposed lewd or inappropriate behavior by Mr. Remmereit ”

        What more than one of us is querying, is how the one morphed into the other? If no one is alleging “lewd” behaviour, I think it should be removed from the comments. If indeed “Chris” has some particular knowledge of “lewd behaviour”, perhaps he can cite the source, or some evidence for same….

      • I think he is referring to Chris’s comment above – I’m not sure either to what “proposed . . . behavior” he is referring.

  4. I was referring to the quote from Mr Brickman’s article ” rumors started flying around the organization alleging that he had engaged in some very nasty and off-the-wall behavior” I apologize to those who felt my words “I am wondering if the proposed lewd or inappropriate behavior by Mr. Remmereit ” were inappropriate.

  5. Ghillie Forrest says:

    I agree with Pamela Brown and Musiker. David Brickman refers to accusations of “nasty and off-the-wall” behaviour, which Chris turns into “lewd or inappropriate.” That’s quite a leap, from general to particular and from eccentric to actionable. There is clearly insinuation contained, and it has no basis in Mr. Brickman’s document.

    • @Ghillie Forrest – you are quite right. Mr.Brickman’s poor choice of words was morphed into something even the nastiet of his opponents would NEVER say. I believe what is meant is that the Maestro has been accused of rather harsh remarks.

      That. Is. All.

  6. Ingrid Bock says:

    This thread has gotten complex. Until David Brickman returns here to clarify, I can be, possibly, a little helpful. Although there has indeed been talk of lewdness and that kind of inappropriate behavior in this situation, it has NOT been directed at Maestro Remmereit by even his harshest critics. Who knows?–maybe that will be the next weapon used, since his detractors have had to move to a personal campaign. (Accusing him of including poetry and dance at concerts, spending too much money on Mahler symphonies, and programming too much music new to Rochester backfired, since it turned out that audiences were thrilled by all this.) Possibly Chris has read the so-called, ‘second petition’, or maybe he’s heard buzz around the water cooler, and confused some of the principals in the saga.
    Like David, I’d been hearing the rumors, and since I’d seen nothing in the least objectionable from Remmereit and was very favorably impressed, I wanted to know if my judgment was falling down on the job. So I asked, at an orchestra meeting (musicians only), what exactly Remmereit had done that was so bad that the board was thinking of taking the radical step of breaking his contract. One of the members of the orchestra committee, who’s also the President of our local A.F.of M. chapter, told us the following two stories. The first is that Remmereit was taken to an elegant country club for a meal by a board member, and asked the waitress for such a variety of menu substitutions that she was reduced to tears. The second should be a lesson to all of those annoying private teachers we had to listen to for years (and to us, since many of us have now become annoying teachers in our own right). Remmereit went out to do a master class/coaching with a seniors’ ensemble of amateur musicians. What did he do with them that was so bad? Are you sitting down? because it’s really shocking. He worked on intonation the whole time. Although the rumor mill has been at work for many months and is still operating overtime, these two stories are the only credible information I have with which to work myself up into a froth of scorn for Remmereit. Since scorn for him is the accepted stance of the, ‘cool kids’, in the orchestra (the quote is from the concertmistress), I have been forced to face the fact that I am not one of the cool kids. If you don’t happen to think that tailoring a restaurant meal to your preferences and working hard on intonation are particularly nasty, off-the-wall things to do, I’m afraid you too might be a nerd.

    • If whatever Maestro Remmereit is perceived to have done or said cannot be construed to be a direct violation or abrogation of his contract, such as in these two bizarre examples, how can anyone on the board even think they have a legal leg to stand on?

    • My understanding is that Maestro Remmereit is a vegetarian who also eats fish.

      He is a tall, slender man. I don’t know what restaurant he was taken to, but to keep his physique, I doubt that he eats the heavy food that we American couch potatoes devour!

  7. Jon Eckleben says:

    Dear Mr. Brickman: thank you so much for speaking out. I live in Rochester and my wife and I have attended RPO concerts since the ’80s. Each season we subscribe to a seven-performance package and usually add on a few additional performances. We have greatly appreciated the vast talents of the RPO musicians and its musical directors during this time. When we learned a few years ago that Christopher Seaman (previous RPO conductor and musical director) would be retiring at the end of the 2010-2011 season, we were deeply saddened. We couldn’t imagine his successor would be as personable or charming as Seaman had been over the course of a dozen seasons. We were pleasantly surprised when Maestro Remmereit came aboard. He was different from his predecessor, but brought his own unique charm and skill to the podium. Not that my wife and I agreed with all of Remmereit’s decisions. We did not like how he interrupted two different Mahler symphonies with an intermission, and we both thought that the poetry reading to start the second half–while admirable for its own sake, and a great opportunity for young local poets to be heard–made the concerts drag a bit. However, we both admired his courage and conviction in presenting new ideas. Remmereit has featured female composers during his brief tenure here and I think everyone has enjoyed that.

    There are two sides to every story and I think it is tragic that we will not see Remmereit complete what was to be a four-year term. He definitely appeared to have a vision and it is regretful that Rochesterarians will not have an opportunity to hear what might have been.

    • @John Eckleben said, “We did not like how he interrupted two different Mahler symphonies with an intermission…”

      Well, that settles it for me. Off with his head! :-)

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        I believe that Mahler asks for a pause of “at least 5 minutes” after the first movement of the Sym. No. 2. I saw a recent performance by Chailly where he sat on a chair next to the podium after mmt 1 for at least 5 minutes (it seemed much longer). I would consider an intermission during certain Mahler works as an interesting strategy (Sym 8 or especially Sym 3 after mmt 1 which lasts 30 minutes). Hardly enough to fire a conductor who experiments musically,

        • Oh no…I was speaking only of my personal preference, and that in jest….

          Nonetheless, a breathing space where everyone remained seated and quiet would probably not be distracting, but anything containing poetry or moving around could.

        • Great observation, and thanks for pointing this out in the Mahler scores.

        • Anna Steltenpohl says:

          Hi Dean Fitzpatrick, hope you are well – I remember the incredible 2003 Curtis Symphony Orchestra concert of Mahler 5 with David Zinman like it was yesterday! If you would like clarification on some of the issues involved in Arild’s termination please contact me. (I assure you, the Mahler pause was not a factor.) Unlike Ms. Bock and Mr. Brickman, I was elected by my colleagues to serve on both artistic and audition committees. As you know, the role of a music director goes well beyond the podium. Having witnessed first hand Mr. Remmereit’s actions and inactions, I can assure you that the correct decision was made.

          Sincerely,
          Anna Steltenpohl
          Oboe/English Horn, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra

          • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

            Salut Anna, glad to hear that you remember that outstanding moment with David Zinman. It sounds like you’re right in the middle of this mess. I would love to get a clearer picture of the situation. I will make contact through other channels. I know that public statements can be dicey at a moment like this. I also have fond memories of Chris Seaman conducting Curtis in Evian in 1984 when he substituted for Yuri Temerikanov for whom the Soviets refused a travel visa. The soloist was Gidon Kremer brilliantly playing Sibelius (all the rehearsals from memory but using music for the concert, lol). Best wishes for a bright future to you and your colleagues.

          • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

            Temirkanov, sorry. I used the Rumanian spelling.

          • @Anna Steltenpohl said, “As you know, the role of a music director goes well beyond the podium. Having witnessed first hand Mr. Remmereit’s actions and inactions, I can assure you that the correct decision was made.’

            I have great respect for the fact that you are in the middle of this situation and are stepping up to the plate and speaking out. Nevertheless, I must ask if you think Mr. Remmereit’s actions ‘beyond the podium’ constituted, prior to the initial notice of termination at the end of the season, actions or inactions that could be legally construed to be violations of his contract?

            Thanks…

  8. Martin Fass says:

    It is encouraging to see letters here from several RPO musicians, and so many thanks must be expressed to Norman Lebrecht for providing this blog.

    And a free commercial from me–for those not familiar with the Lebrecht Interviews, including Gustavo Dudamel, John Adams and many others, go to:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/lebrecht

    Perhaps one day he will have a conversation with marvelous Arild Remmereit.

  9. Ingrid Bock says:

    Ms. Steltenpohl, it is odd that you should say that the Mahler pause was not a factor, since it was specifically cited by another member of the Artistic Advisory Committee, Colin Corner, to me personally. I will try to reproduce the conversation here, as close to verbatim as I can get. Colin will be able to confirm this for you. IB: “I can’t understand why people are slamming Remmereit so much. I feel like he’s done great things for us already.” CC: “I’m on the Artistic Advisory Committee, and if you’d been there you’d understand. He’s done some really crazy things.” (I remember exactly those words, ‘really crazy’.) IB: “Oh, yeah? Please tell me–I have been hoping for some real truth in this.” CC: “Well, like that pause in the Mahler. And reading poetry in the concerts.” IB: “Well, as to the Mahler, the score calls for a pause. And about the poetry, I myself am not a huge fan of it, but only because I like my poetry to have stood the test of time. And I’ve been told by tons of audience members that they love it, anyway.” CC: “Well, here’s something even crazier. He wanted to have a small group of kids, like a chamber group, play a piece during one of our concerts.” I pointed out to him that we do that exact thing at other concerts, and that, while I personally thought it might be too informal for a Philharmonics concert, it was hardly what you’d call, ‘really crazy’, and it wasn’t at all what I thought he was going to tell me, and wasn’t even close to being a reason for terminating his contract. Again, check with Colin for the veracity of this account.

  10. Ingrid Bock says:

    I just reread my post, and there’s a lack of clarity in the last two sentences. I meant that those things weren’t at all the type of things I thought Colin had been going to tell me, and they weren’t even close to being a reason for terminating Remmereit’s contract (not Colin’s).

    • With all due respect to the board in terms of writing a contract (realizing that is not an easy thing to do), there seems to be no correlation between a conductor being creative or wanting to be creative and any clause in a contract. In order to be a contract violation, or have any legal viability, wouldn’t there have to be such a clause that forbids the conductor from asking for things he thinks might make an improvement?

  11. Chaim DeLoye says:

    Since all the facts relating to the termination of Maestro Remmereit are unknown outside of the Rochester Philharmonic board of directors, the members of the public, like those participants in the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant, make up their mind as to who is innocent and who is guilty, who is right and who is wrong, who is hero and who is goat, and who is sinner and who is sinned against based solely on the small fragment of the whole picture that comes within their hands.

    • Chaim DeLoye wrote:
      “Since all the facts relating to the termination of Maestro Remmereit are unknown outside of the Rochester Philharmonic board of directors, “…..

      ….As the Rochester Philharmonic is a publicly funded charitable organization, and since the Board represents the public’s interest (supposedly) in being diligent on behalf of the stakeholders to ensure that the Philharmonic lives up to its mission, why has there been so little transparency in this case? Absent a clear, truthful and complete account from the whole of the Board, of course we are left with fragments, and end up drawing our own conclusions.
      Given that the Board seems unable or unwilling to provide a complete account, perhaps it is time (an an earlier poster wrote) for the authorities to step in – the mayor of Rochester, the city solicitor, the state Attorney General or some other figure who can protect the public interest, and the Philharmonic from more damage….

      • Chaim DeLoye says:

        Mr. MacMaster -

        Your views obviously stem from the preconceived notion that the Board acted improperly in terminating Remmereit and that since they have not spilled their guts as to why they did so they must be hiding something. So be it. But considering that nether you nor I have any idea as to what really triggered these events is it not just as valid to assume that the Board acted correctly based on information which they possess but can not make public for various legal and ethical reasons? It’s disingenuous in the extreme for the pro-Remmereit forces to initiate a lawsuit which ties the Board’s hands by limiting what they can say publicly, and then to complain about a lack of transparency.

        As to the proposal that our elected officials should be asked to step in, I’ll pass by that suggestion in embarrassed silence.

        • Mr DeLoye, If you read earlier posts, you will find a good deal of background to the standoff between the music director and the chief executive.

          • Chaim DeLoye says:

            Norman Lebrecht –

            I’ve seen it. And I’ve talked to several peole who claim to know what’s what. But like the material I’ve read in the various Rochester newspapers most of this background material (both pro and anti Remmereit) is little more than opinion, speculation, gossip, hearsay and third hand reports, all filtered through the observer’s personal biases.

            A very few people have the full story. And for good reasons they’re not talking.

            The bottom line is that rightly or wrongly Remmereit is out and the Board and the executives that terminated him remain in power. It’s time for the Remmereit supporters to determine whether what they might potentially gain by further sturm und drang outweighs the potential damage the negative publicity might do to the RPO.

          • It seems to me the real issue is whether or not ti can be construed that Maestro Remmereit violated his contract prior to the first notice of termination. There is no doubt the lawyers on both sides are working that out.

          • Chaim DeLoye says:

            Ms Brown –

            As neither of us have seen Remmereit’s contract we can only speculate. I would assume that it contained the standard termination for cause provisions. And even perhaps, though unlikely, a termination for convenience clause under which the Board could dismiss him at any time and for no reason.

            But keep in mind that this has been a two step process. First the Board terminated his contract effective Aug. 31 of this year. Whether this was legal under the terms of the contract is an open question to us here in the bleachers. That’s what lawyers are for.

            Then secondly, the Board voted a week ago to immediately terminate Remmereit, giving as their reason his failure to perform his contractual job responsibilities since late November. Again, whether this action was justified or whether it violated any state labor laws or the terms of his contract remains to be seen and will doubtless tie up several lawyers and arbitrators.

          • True that as outsiders we can only speculate on what has and is taking place.

            On the board side, if AR has violated his contract or, as you mention elsewhere, the contract included a no fault termination statement, their legal ground could hold. On the other hand, if AR’s reputation is being deliberately destroyed by the board and/or he has not violated his contract, it would seem that his lawyers would have a legal leg to pursue remedies to those things.

    • Jon Eckleben says:

      Mr. DeLoye:

      You say that all the facts are “unknown outside” of the Board of Directors. I submit there is one fact that is even lost on the Board–that they fired a popular conductor and many loyal concert-goers have little faith in the Board’s ability to find a worthy replacement.

      I had a recent discussion with a Board member about this affair, and my take-away was that they view the Pop music series as far more popular and profitable than the symphonic series. It would not surprise me if the ultimate destination they want to steer the RPO to is one of becoming all Pops, all the time.

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