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By a slight margin, respondents to this week's RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll oppose the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra board's decision last week to terminate RPO music director Arild Remmereit's contract at the end of the 2012-13 season.
Remmereit started as the orchestra's 11th music director in September 2011, after signing a four-year contract.
Fifty-one percent of all respondents oppose the board's decision. Among the roughly one-fifth of respondents who are RPO subscribers, 58 percent oppose dismissing Remmereit.
One-quarter of respondents say they have not paid to attend any RPO concerts in the past year; among those, 63 percent support the board's choice to terminate Remmereit's contract.
In statements released since the board's action, RPO chairwoman Elizabeth Rice said that while Remmereit "invigorated audiences" with his focus on female composers and lesser-known works, "tensions developed between him and members of the RPO staff, board and orchestra." After attempts to repair the relationship, "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."
Supporters of Remmereit have criticized the board's action, saying he has "invigorated audiences and reached out to the Rochester community to build new levels of involvement, (yet) he has not received the support he needs from the board or from the administration at the (RPO), creating a hostile work environment for Remmereit."
They launched an online petition at change.org to seek his reinstatement. By Wednesday, the petition had more than 900 signatures.
More than 400 readers participated in this week's poll, which was conducted Dec. 3 and 4.
Do you support or oppose the RPO board’s decision to terminate Music Director Arild Remmereit’s contract at the end of the 2012-13 season?
Over the past year, how many times have you paid to attend an RPO concert?
I am an RPO subscriber: 21%
3 or more times: 20%
1-2 times: 34%
Remmereit has shattered the stodgy, upper-class facade of classical music in Rochester, a long-overdue reform. And even though he is a WASP male himself—as am I—he has opened the floodgates of his concerts to new and wonderful innovation. And who ever heard of poetry at concerts? My, my!
I was deeply disappointed and angry with the initial news. The information that has emerged since, from friends closer to the situation and from the RPO board, has convinced me they did the right thing. It is a significant loss for us and for Arild himself. We will survive and thrive. I hope sincerely that this talented man will learn from the experience.
I think the move to terminate Arild Remmereit’s contract shows bad form on the part of the RPO board. Is Mr. Remmereit damaging the orchestra by his conducting? As an RPO customer, this does not appear to be the case; however, behind the scenes it may be a different story. What I do anticipate is the existing $700,000 deficit plus a contract termination buyout plus lawyers’ expenses plus a new conductor salary (so the RPO will pay double for the conductor full-time position). I think the decision to terminate his contract early shows poor talent management, fiscal management and overall strategic planning. But I hope I am wrong.
Regardless of how good his ideas may be, if he isn’t getting along with the majority of the board and staff, then his ideas wouldn’t be welcomed and further tensions would occur. Sometimes a person’s vision simply doesn’t fit with the majority in an organization, and for the sake of the future of the RPO, this decision should be supported. We simply can’t know the back story to this and shouldn’t rush to judgment when we don’t have all the facts. Knowing the majority of the board members agree this is the best solution is enough for me.
Remmereit brings creative genius to our community, and concertgoers love his artistry. But this is so Rochester as RPO management apparently prefers comfortable mediocrity. Will any world-class conductor come to Rochester after Remmereit’s firing? Seems the wrong person was fired!
How disappointing that this toxic personnel situation airs (partially) in public. While “truth” is known only to the participants, it seems fitting that both of the adversaries should graciously step aside and let the organization (which they both love) proceed without them.
—D. Kennedy, Webster
This all sounds too fishy to me. Let’s hear the truth behind all this drama.
—Lew Pulvino, Safe Passage
If Sir Mick Jagger, in his outrageousness, conducted classical music and I learned he was considering bringing his resume to Rochester, I’d urge his agent to reconsider. Or if, a shade earlier, Frank Sinatra had been similarly weighing, I’d have advised his rep, no-no-Nanette. Certainly, if it had worked (as was rumored to be on the table) and Lenny Bernstein would have favored a Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra gig, can you help but wonder how Lenny would have been received? Did someone whisper, genius? Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra music director Arild Remmereit, as observed by this RPO subscription attendee and from rumor-mill grist, is a maverick. By RPO Eastman Theatre concerts he has conducted—my wife and I’ve heard ’em all—the band plays for him! And his spontaneous comments to the house (via a handheld mic, with a switch, no less) have been charged. Folks, it seems, wonder what he’ll say next and how he’ll say it. We’ve also heard Mr. Remmereit has artistic temperament. So did Howard Hanson and that other double consonant Eastman School conductor/entrepreneur, Frederick Fennell, not to mention previous RPO maestro David Zinman, and some would include our favorite, Sir Mark Elder. And don’t forget Eric Leinsdorf, a pit of a pip, it is said. I was encouraged by Maestro Remmereit’s representative Glenn Pezzulo’s comment to the effect: No matter how the door slams shut, it can reopen.
—Ned Corman, Penfield
The conductor is doing his job by creating inspiring music and getting out into the community to raise awareness of the need of the orchestra. That is more than we can say about the board and the administration. The wrong party got fired.
They had an exhaustive search to replace Christopher Seaman; they chose Arild. They moved him and his family to Rochester; now they want to terminate his contact? Something is amiss here.
—Frank Muto, president, FJM Inc.
I submit this “tongue in cheek.” I have no idea what the facts really are! My “gut” feeling is the board of directors should have done a much more thorough investigation before hiring and moving the family to this country! If they insist, then pay him the full four years and pay to move him back to Europe!
—J.A DePaolis, Penfield
I don’t think it’s anybody’s business other than that of the board.
—Daniel Mossien, architect
Our fabulous orchestra is not just a conductor. They have played beautifully for many conductors—both permanent and guest. In fact, they are a group of more than 100 talented professional musicians backed by a professional staff and a board of committed citizens. Apparently, Arild has significant and creative musical talent but is sadly lacking in the ability to get along successfully with others. Without that latter quality, he clearly cannot be a member of the “team” that’s responsible for producing great music in our community.
—Alan Ziegler, Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation
Let’s stop trying to second-guess the board of directors. I’m sure they did not come to this decision lightly. Something must have happened to warrant the action the board took, and we may never know what it was. No matter how great the conductor is, if there is a problem that needed to be addressed, I commend the board for doing what they thought was right for the good of all concerned.
—Don Faso, retired director of business development
The RPO should listen to its customers.
It is the board’s sandbox. It is the board’s football. The board has the gold. The board makes the rules. Jimmy crack corn. Never saw a team win by the excellent play of its coach. Sometimes it just is not a good fit. Will anyone care in a year? Doubt it.
12/7/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.