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Rochester cellist speaks up for her sacked conductor

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.

ingrid bock

 

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

 

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Comments

  1. Someone from another orchestra says:

    Thank you so much for letting us see that there is much, much more to the issue than we can see from outside. I admire your courage in expressing your position; I find it very sad that an orchestra like yours, that should be united, is not, and I’m absolutely horrified that your committee failed to adequately represent you.

  2. Ingrid Bock says:

    As much as I’d love to accept this promotion, I’m on a truth-telling roll lately and have to let you know that I am NOT the principal cellist of the Rochester Philharmonic, but the last chair cellist. Our wonderful principal is Stefan Reuss, and he will appreciate the humor of my temporary promotion. I AM the principal cellist of the Rochester Chamber Orchestra, a small group pulled from the RPO. I’m not sure if I’m sticking my neck out further from last chair than I would be from first chair…in any case, I feel very strongly about this and have the courage of my convictions.

  3. Beautiful, brave letter.

    Norman, Ms Bock is in the RPO cello section, and is principal cellist for the Rochester Chamber Orchestra.

  4. Liane Curtis says:

    Thank you, Ms. Bock, for your powerful statement! I hope readers will take a look at the website http://rpocommunity.wordpress.com/ to learn about further views of the “dissident RPO supporters.” Also consider signing these two petitions http://tinyurl.com/petition-RPO and http://tinyurl.com/FIRE-C-OWENS
    Thank you, Liane Curtis

  5. Here here for your courage, Ingrid, I deeply admire you for it!

  6. Laurie Weil says:

    Beautifully written Ingrid!

  7. Donald Callahan says:

    This is a shock for me. We in the Xalapa Symphony Orchestra in Mexico have had the great pleasure of working on a few occasions with Maestro Remmereit, and he is considered a treasure chest of inspiration and vitality, and to know that he is suffering in Rochester at the hands of non-musicians is appalling. As are the problems currently plaguing other American orchestras.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      This is unfortunately just the latest example of meddling by USA Board members who are totally out-of-touch with the realities of musical life and the needs of orchestras and their communities. How many MBAs can dance on the head of a pin? Obviously, none. It would be easier to count the orchestras that have not encountered these types of obstacles from the leaders of the business community who run their Boards. It is rare, though, to have a Board interfere directly with the musical and artistic side of the equation as in Rochester.

    • Donald Callahan -
      What a delight to read your comment!

      Please consider signing our first petition (the first link) in Liane Curtis’ comment above. This is for people who wish Maestro Remmereit to be reinstated as the RPO’s Music Director. There is a place for your comment as well. If you would share what you said above, it will help our cause, and the Maestro is sure to see it.

  8. I too have worked with Maestro Remmereit on many occasions. It was always a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

  9. Louise Norris says:

    I am distressed by the actions of the orchestra representatives. You all need a recall election for the President of your local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians!

    • Ingrid Bock says:

      Louise Norris, if you have time, can you tell me what a recall election is? Are you thinking that a different person in the role of President might have been able to make sure that ALL of us were represented?

  10. Karyl Friedman says:

    Thank you, Ms. Bock, for speaking out and enlightening us. I have been a member and subscriber to the RPO for 27 years, thoroughly enjoying every event. The beauty brought forth by Maestro Remmereit’s direction has been thrilling. Some years ago, I made a bequest in my will to the RPO. This past summer, because of terribly rude treatment by office staff toward friends as well as myself, I removed the bequest. This happened many months prior to the recent disgraceful events. The performance of staff comes from direction and attitude of management of any organization. Your description of the behavior of the board and management does not surprise me because I, as a member and subscriber experienced the same. I am terribly saddened by the tarnishing of our sparkling jewel and beautiful asset to our community.

  11. Ms. Friedman, would you describe the nature of the rude treatment? Thank you.

    • Karyl Friedman says:

      A year ago, I called the RPO Office to ask why I had not rec’d a the new concert season schedule. I was told I was “NOT ENTITLED” to receive one since I had not renewed my previous season series. I told the staff person (male) that I was a 27 yr long member and one of the first Legacy Society Members having made a bequest to the RPO in my will years before. I was told “that makes NO difference.” And. . . he hung up! I have friends and neighbors who have never been to the RPO, who get the schedule annually. In fact, it was a neighbor, noted as “current resident,” who gave me hers. Late last summer, at a gathering at my home, friends told me they had called the box office that morning to purchase 6 pairs of tickets for the “Sunday Matinees with Arlid” for the coming season. These folks have missed only 2 Phils concerts in 35 yrs of membership but no longer wish to drive at night. However, they wish to attend the matinees. They were told they could not purchase the matinee tix if they did not renew their series. My friend explained they were no longer driving at night but still wanted to contribute and support the Orchestra. Once again, the response was “NO.” The result of this rudeness was the other folks at my home all refusing to donate to the organization. All were surprised and disgusted that our long time support made no difference. And to add to the story, the very next day, I rec’d a letter in the mail begging for $$$. It was shredded.

      May I ask, John, Who Are You?

    • Karyl Friedman says:

      John, I am sorry, I neglected to mention that I registered a complaint with Member Services and was treated well. One can get over issues, but memories remain. They came to the surface with the discussion with friends a year or so later.

  12. I believe that programming decisions should be the sole province of the music director, subject only to the constraint that these decisions should not bust the budget. Complaints from RPO spokesmen that Remmereit was not a “collaborator” suggest it was management that did not know its place, not Remmereit.

    • I took “not a collaborator” to be an institutional-spokesperson euphemism for imperious and/or ill-tempered. If that is true, then Remmereit would hardly be the first conductor to have that personality flaw. (I had thought, however, that most conductors under 60 were taught that such behavior is no longer considered acceptable, especially in the States.)

  13. A brave stand in a very difficult situation, Ingrid.

  14. Finally, a candid account of the backstory from a musician’s point of view (unlike a few of your colleagues
    who’ve written teasingly vague essays, claiming a need for confidentiality, and thereby wasting everyone’s
    time). In my frustration at the bland statements from Ms Rice (which also conveyed nothing of substance) I
    sought an objective journalistic stance from the New York Times. And what did I find there? References
    to the creative brilliance of Maestro Remmereit in one article after another–over the past half dozen years.
    It didn’t clarify any of the madness currently taking place in Gibbs Street, but it did raise the question, in my
    mind at least, as to why on earth a world class conductor would be engaged by the very board who sought
    to sabotage his tenure from day one? Personal vanity (that of the board CEO, not the Maestro) can only
    account for this bit of perversity. And it is exercised at the expense of a venerable institution. When a dedicated
    benefactor such as Betty Strasenburgh has no choice but to remove herself (and her contributions) from
    the RPO, the writing is on the wall.

    • @Joseph Johns said, “why on earth a world class conductor would be engaged by the very board who sought
      to sabotage his tenure from day one?”

      This, I guess, is at the heart of the mystery surrounding this complicated set of circumstances. If the board were to have acted with ill intent from day one they could not have done any more damage than has already been done.

      But the question remains…why?

    • Josef Johns says: “I sought an objective journalistic stance from the New York Times. And what did I find there? …
      It didn’t clarify any of the madness currently taking place in Gibbs Street.”

      Josef (and everyone else who forgets), the New York Times is, at least in part, a local newspaper. It is under no obligation to cover the turmoil at an orchestra more than 500km and a six-hour drive away.

      If you want coverage of the madness currently taking place in Gibbs Street, look to the web sites of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and the Rochester City Paper.

  15. A very compelling statement, indeed. I notice that Ms. Bock comes from the Zinman era. He’s another one who got the bum’s rush, this one the Aspen Music Festival. (Maybe, Norman, you could get into that one, unless you already have) Actually Zinman resigned from the Aspen Music Festival, when management cut back on the summer season and let go some of the teachers, even though the others rallied around their colleagues and were willing to take a pay cut to absorb the difference. It was an example of officious and arbitrary corporate moneybags ruling the organization (sic. exercising ownership rights over an institution which had a bifurcated structure that gave the faculty some real power), and killing a very golden goose, even if there might be others around for the next round of foie gras. My vote is for the artists not the financiers.

  16. Ingrid Bock says:

    A Grim Fairy Tale

    “Recently-arrived Rochesterian Ms. Music O’Phile, to be known hereafter as Ms., is surprised by a larger-than-expected tax refund (you can tell it’s a fairy tale), and decides to use her windfall to support musical excellence in her newly-adopted city. She sets out to discover whether Rochester maintains an orchestra to which she can donate.

    “As she investigates, she finds that there are aspects of what she’d assumed would be one orchestra which cannot be reconciled, and which appear to belong to different entities. It begins to seem to her that there must be two orchestras in Rochester.

    “The Rochester Philharmonic, she reads, has a long history of artistic excellence and tradition. She learns that it has not neglected to work to ensure its health in the future. She hears that a dedicated group of musician representatives, staff and management personnel, and members from the board of directors have participated in a guided process to arrive at, articulate, and implement a vision for the orchestra’s future, responding powerfully and positively to a changing world. She learns that these people spent hours of their time, and lots of their brainpower and creative juices, to reach consensus about an impressive mission statement, in which they vowed not to be risk-averse, and to move forward with confidence to set the pace for Rochester’s cultural progress. They realized that they were custodians of some of the best of what might be considered to be their city’s greatest export–music.

    “This all sounds exciting to Ms., inspired, inspiring, and support-worthy. She feels it’s safe to assume that the Rochester Philharmonic is marching forward in accordance with its admirable goals, its shining vision for itself clearly visible on a banner right up in front.

    “But she’s also finding some information about an orchestra which seems to be called the Smugtown Symphony, said to be a world-class orchestra where everything is absolutely fine. When she thinks carefully about this, she’s not exactly sure about the specific meaning of the phrase, ‘world-class’. The Smugtown Symphony doesn’t perform internationally, and hasn’t performed even nationally, lately. Ms. thinks that maybe the Smugtown Symphony doesn’t have the financial resources to operate at an international level, and that maybe her donation would help it do that.

    “At this point in her reading and deliberations, Ms. learns that one of the two orchestras has hired, and then almost immediately fired, a new music director.

    “She hears that, although the orchestra’s audiences were inspired and even thrilled by the exciting new ideas and energy which this music director brought to performances and to personal interactions, some of the ways he thought to achieve his artistic goals were considered inconsistent with the orchestra management’s established pattern, that these differences in working style were declared to be irreconcilable, and that he was terminated as a result.

    “She deduces that this must have happened at the Smugtown Symphony, since the Rochester Philharmonic, having made a promise not to be risk-averse and to be a cutting-edge ambassador of Rochester’s cultural presence, would have welcomed the input from, and the impact of, such a creative and talented musician, and would have found a way to integrate his ideas and his way of working into its existing structure. What this music director brought to the table was, after all, exactly what the Rochester Philharmonic had vowed to embrace. Ms. knows that the Rochester Philharmonic, trusting in its elasticity to encompass change, would have jumped at the chance to strengthen itself and extend its influence by taking aboard the cosmopolitan worldview and the outside-the-box ideas of this music director.

    “Ms. feels that it must, then, be the Smugtown Symphony which has hired and fired its music director. She’s puzzled, though, because she can’t understand how an orchestra could reach world class status without having the ability to incorporate all kinds of new ideas and new ways of working. As she struggles to differentiate between the two orchestras, she’s gradually caught up in a bewildering whirlwind of conflicting information, and often can’t make out which orchestra is being discussed.

    “She hears that some musicians are very upset that the music director, whom they saw as their guide to true world-class status, has been, as they see it, shown the door by a size ten hobnailed boot. ‘They must be musicians from the Rochester Philharmonic, because the musicians in the Smugtown Symphony are already world-class, right?’, thinks Ms.

    “She hears that other musicians would have been even happier had the boot been a size twelve. They’re seemingly resentful that they’d been asked, publicly or privately, tactfully or not so tactfully, to stretch their technical boundaries in the quest for an ever-higher artistic level. ‘These can’t be musicians from the Rochester Philharmonic, which has declared itself to be an organization willing to step outside its comfort zone as it reaches for the stars. So these musicians must be from the Smugtown Symphony’, thinks Ms.

    “Ms. feels her head is spinning. She hears whispers of managerial improprieties and cover-ups. She hears of name-calling, shunning, and intimidation, from different groups within the organization. She sees musicians berating their colleagues in publications local, national, and international, and is pretty sure that this is not what anyone meant by being world class, although it’s definitely attracting worldwide attention. She learns that the musicians have heard from several sources, which include one of their own who works with the board of directors, that it may not be just the music director who’s shown the door; next up, the CEO will be looked at under a microscope, and there may well be an exit sign in his future. But the chair of this same board of directors states publicly that, no matter what the public thinks about it (nor, presumably, the musicians), the CEO is there to stay. ‘How can that be just one orchestra?’, wonders Ms.

    “Finally, confused about whether Rochester has one orchestra or two, and disheartened at the state of orchestral affairs in her new hometown, Ms. takes her donation dollars to the nearest book-and-music store, where she’s able to buy a stack of orchestral music CDs. Although she knows they will not be nearly as thrilling and soul-satisfying as live performances, they come unencumbered by controversy, unpleasant mysteries, and broken promises. The End.”

    I really don’t like the end of this fairy tale. Can we change it?

    How about if every single character in the story, everyone with a stake in the orchestral life of our city, puts his or her highest goals and brightest vision for the RPO on a personal mental banner, and then proceeds to act in accordance with it, although it might result in some personal inconvenience, discomfort, or even loss? Can we make it so that, ‘world-class’, is a truth, and not a catchphrase? How about if we begin immediately to make our decisions from the perspective of what will best serve the music, our product? Much of the music we play has been alive for hundreds of years, in different hands and in different ears. We are merely the current stewards of it, and if we remain in turmoil much longer, we will not be doing as well by it as it deserves.

    If we agree that all of us serve the music, we will be called upon to make further changes. Some people may come aboard, and others may step down. Some who may not have been perfectly truthful could learn that truth is what we need now most of all, and others who may have been bluntly truthful might learn that the way a message is delivered, and the timing of it, are sometimes as important as the message itself. Some may raise their standards, and some may learn to have more patience with the growth process involved in raising standards. Those who have acted out of fear, and those who have failed to act out of fear, may realize that fear should have no part in the day-to-day operations of a symphony orchestra, and work to free themselves of it. Your vision for the RPO will be slightly different than mine, but with conversation and negotiation we will probably be able, eventually, to line up on a much nicer path than the one we’re on now, and will have learned something valuable from the conversation.

    That would be the best kind of ending for our story. And it really is, ‘our’, story. The orchestra belongs to all of us; some are the hands and others are the ears. We need both in order to bring the music to life. I hope that each person who knows the value of Rochester’s orchestra will feel called upon to play a role in its current situation which feels genuine and right. Never before, perhaps, have so many Rochesterians (and others) shown how much they care about the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Let us start by acknowledging that very important, positive aspect of this situation, and let’s not be afraid to get involved. We can be grateful to one another for the fact that we care so much. It’s something we have in common, and it’s especially important right now to seek out what we share. That will be, perhaps, the first step towards reconciliation, which will happen at a different pace and in a unique way for each of us. Let us not rush the process, and let’s give up trying to pretend that all is fine, when it clearly isn’t, not yet. Let’s help one another heal thoroughly and permanently, from the inside out.

    The RPO community will benefit, the city of Rochester will benefit, and, most importantly, the music, beautiful and immortal and more necessary to humankind than any one of us, will benefit.

  17. Ingrid Bock says:

    Petition filed (with State of New York, Supreme Court) for redoing the annual meeting
    February 20, 2013
    Today, February 20, 2013, Eileen Buholtz filed her petition to redo RPO, Inc.’s flawed annual meeting of members held on January 23, 2013. Ms. Buholtz requests that the entire membership be notified of a new, properly convened and conducted meeting at which write-in votes on the ballots be recognized and counted.

    RPO, Inc. neglected to notify several segments of its membership of the January 23rd meeting, including contributors to the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, patrons who turned in their tickets for credit as contributions to RPO, Inc., and members whom it improperly determined were family members with other individual members.

    The petition shows that RPO, Inc. violated its by-laws and New York State law in setting the membership year and record date for the January 23rd meeting, and in fact systematically sets its record date in early December of every year which disenfranchises the donors who contribute during the end of December and that RPO, Inc. and its inspectors of election improperly refused to receive and count votes cast by write-ins on RPO Inc.’s ballots at the January 23rd meeting.

    Lastly, Ms. Buholtz repeats her request that RPO, Inc. provide her with the list of members, as required by New York State law and RPO, Inc.’s by-laws, so that she can notify RPO, Inc.’s members of their right to write in the names of candidates other than those nominated by RPO, Inc.

    RPO, Inc.’s current condition demonstrates that a change in leadership is necessary.

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