A cellist in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Ingrid Bock, has broken collective silence in a letter to Slipped Disc to denounce what she sees as the boardroom plots against the dismissed conductor, Arild Remmereit. The following candid statement will add fuel to the attempt by dissident RPO supporters to overthrow the board and chief executive and reinstate the music director.
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