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Just in: Board candidate sues orchestra over conductor dismissal

This just in from supporters of the Rochester Philharmonic. Here’s the background to the story.

arild

Eileen Buholtz, who is a candidate on the write-in slate for Board of Directors of RPO, Inc. has commenced a lawsuit in her own name as a member of RPO, Inc. against the Board of Directors of RPO, Inc.

Her summons, verified complaint, and order to show cause with proposed temporary restraining order were filed in the Monroe County Clerk’s Office on January 22, 2013. Her suit requests a stay of the Annual Meeting scheduled for tonight, Jan. 23, 2013, the proper setting of the record date for members to vote at the Annual Meeting, the continuance of the terms of current board members until a new board is elected, a copy of the complete list of members for Jan. 1-Dec. 21, 2012 with all contact information, a re-scheduling of the annual meeting as approved by the court, and court confirmation that Robert’s Rules of Order Revised, which govern RPO, Inc.’s member meetings, authorizes a write-in slate of candidates for election to the Board of Directors.

The judge who will rule on Ms. Buholtz’s requested temporary restraining order to stay the annual meeting is the Hon. Kenneth R. Fisher. Justice

Fisher has scheduled a conference call at 1:30 pm today, January 23, 2013 with RPO, Inc.’s attorney Sharon Stiller.

UPDATE: After oral argument by the parties at 1:30 pm today, Jan. 23, 2013, the Hon. Kenneth Fisher scheduled the next appearance date in Eileen Buholtz’s lawsuit against the RPO Board for February 4, 2013 at 9:30 am at the Hall of Justice and ruled that the annual meeting scheduled for tonight will go forward tonight. He held that all issues raised in the suit can and will be addressed in the suit after the meeting as provided for by Not-For-Profit Law §618.

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Comments

  1. Ingrid Bock says:

    Many members of our community, and others from further afield, have voiced their concerns about the turmoil at the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. One group has not spoken publicly – the musicians who feel that the Board of Directors’ decision to terminate Music Director Arild Remmereit’s contract was a mistake, musically and financially. Although the public outcry has been overwhelmingly in support of Maestro Remmereit and against the Board’s decision, this large group of musicians has been silenced by fear.

    I write now to stand firmly in support of Arild Remmereit, as a conductor and as a human being.

    This truly isn’t an easy thing to do, in the midst of the upheavals at work. Were it not for the support of a large number of my respected colleagues who share my opinions and whose views I represent here also, and for the fact that an experienced attorney stands ready to assist if support of Maestro Remmereit results in retaliation from those who hold opposing views, I might have chosen to remain silent.

    This unfortunate and probably unprecedented situation, in which RPO musicians have been placed in a position where their only choices are to remain silent about a matter of critical importance to them, or to contradict their colleagues publicly (a situation that any good orchestral board of directors should fight hard against, since it directly affects the quality of the product, which requires sincerely heartfelt collaboration and precise cooperation), is completely unnecessary and could have been easily avoided.

    The radical decision to terminate Arild Remmereit’s contract was in my considered opinion made even before he had stepped onto the podium to take up his duties as our Music Director. I do not need to rely on statements which have been made by former board and honorary board members who have long known that the plan to terminate the Maestro was hatched before he had arrived in Rochester, although I’m sure that they’re accurate. (“He sat right here and told me he would have Remmereit out within a year. Well, he did it – it took him a year and a half, but he did it.”-Betty Strasenburgh, Honorary Board Member) A couple of months before the start of our 2011-2012 season, Remmereit’s first, a member of the Board of Directors said to me personally about Maestro Remmereit, “He won’t be around long.” I knew this person as someone who’d been thrilled by Remmereit’s guest appearances, and I understood that I was being told that a decision unrelated to Remmereit’s musicianship was in the works, a preemptive strike, as it were. Concerned members of the larger RPO family might well have questions about the whys and hows of this momentous decision. Something which seems very clear, though, is that musician opinion was not what drove the decision-making process.

    On that topic, I speak from especially personal knowledge. My opinions of Arild Remmereit were not considered, even by some of my own colleagues. It’s not enough to say that I enjoy playing under Maestro Remmereit, although I most certainly do. In addition, I firmly believe that his innovative, collaborative programming, with its focus on contemporary sensibilities and on our city’s legacy; his compelling presence on the podium; his easy rapport with our audiences and supporters; and his attention to the details which take a performance from excellent to outstanding, are what would catapult our beloved RPO into the upper echelon of American orchestras.

    As Arild Remmereit took the podium, I was very excited about the glorious future I saw on the RPO’s horizon, and I was shocked to find that it was in jeopardy, through his threatened termination.

    When I attempted, at an official orchestra musicians’ meeting, to voice my impression of him as a person and my experiences at his rehearsals and concerts, I was told by one of my colleagues, a member of our annually elected five-member representative committee, that my positive opinion of Maestro Remmereit was not as important as certain negative opinions held by other musicians. Shortly after that meeting, I filled out the first of two surveys given to musicians so that we could provide feedback about the Music Director, thinking that here would be my chance to voice my opinion. Sure enough, the results were tallied and showed that a strong majority of the musicians supported Maestro Remmereit. Very soon thereafter, though, a second survey was sent to us, with unusual instructions that it be returned to one member of the Board of Directors, who would compile the results. When I called this board member to ask why, when a matter of such gravity was at stake, an impartial third party had not been designated to receive our responses and compile them, he referred me to the President of our local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians, who is also one of the orchestra musicians and who had approved the process. Because of the irregularities in the process whereby the second survey of musicians’ opinions was taken, I declined to participate, along with quite a large number of my colleagues.

    When a few musicians proposed to issue a statement to the press indicating that we, as a group, supported the actions of our Board of Directors, I addressed the room and asked that no such statement be issued without a great deal more conversation, as we were far from a unified body. The motion was carried to draft a statement, and many musicians understood that we would, at least, have the opportunity to discuss, edit, and approve it or not. Instead, the five-member committee drafted something which implied that musicians were united, and sent it out immediately.

    Thus, my memorably positive musical experiences with Arild Remmereit, and the strong impression I have of his integrity, his fairness, his kindness, and his sense of humor, have gotten very little exposure. By reading this, you have given me a voice, and I’m grateful. I’ll be grateful too for your continued interest in, and support of, the music made by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. It is a very bad time for us, and I liken it to the Civil War, when members of families fought against each other. No matter what happens from now on, it will be a very slow recovery onstage and off, and that recovery hasn’t even begun. I have never doubted that Arild Remmereit wants to fulfill his vision to see the RPO standing as one of this country’s best orchestras, and I’ve never doubted that that is where we belong. I hope that all of us will yet see it happen.

    Sincerely, Ingrid Bock, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra cellist since the David Zinman era

  2. Ms Bock- Have you thought of taking the next step and using a petition process that reaches out to the greater community on an even broader scale? You might, for example, inquire about using a free service like “Change.org” or “credoaction.com”.

  3. Ingrid Bock says:

    Thank you very much, Ed. There are two petitions circulating on change.org, initiated by Liane Curtis, a lecturer at Brandeis who advocates for female composers. Curtis actually created an award for Arild Remmereit, who did such a fine job of programming women’s music during his time at the RPO that, last night at the annual meeting where they discussed his firing, they bragged that what he did for this cause (inclusion of music by female composers on symphonic programs) was unique in America. Here is a link to the most recent petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/the-board-of-directors-of-the-rochester-philharmonic-orchestra-fire-charles-h-owens-ceo-and-reinstate-music-director-arild-remmereit?fb_action_ids=10151340383282661&fb_action_types=change-org%3Arecruit&fb_ref=__eeKugPYxbB&fb_source=timeline_og&action_object_map=%7B%2210151340383282661%22%3A184894494986261%7D&action_type_map=%7B%2210151340383282661%22%3A%22change-org%3Arecruit%22%7D&action_ref_map=%7B%2210151340383282661%22%3A%22__eeKugPYxbB%22%7D&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=url_share&utm_campaign=url_share_before_sign I will also post a link to the first petition which circulated, and get the exact name of Liane Curtis’s organization to post here. Thank you again for your interest in the Rochester Philharmonic’s tough times.

  4. Ingrid Bock says:

    More in response to Ed’s comment: Liane Curtis is a Resident Scholar at Brandeis, and her group is the Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy. Here’s the link to the first petition: 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?utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=url_share&utm_campaign=url_share_after_sign I was very happy to be learning a lot of excellent music which was new to me, with Remmereit as Music Director, and it’s great that Curtis does so much to further the cause of women composers.

  5. Bob Burns says:

    It seems that no matter how this all falls out the well will have been been sufficiently poisoned to ruin any chance of making good music. Sad, sad, sad.

    I doubt whether Remmereit should come back to that job, even if asked to return. Once burned, twice shy.

  6. David Brickman says:

    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

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