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Let Remmereit go

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I've been really, really pleased with the Rochester Philharmonic's concerts since Arild Remmereit became music director. The orchestra has performed beautifully, and I've enjoyed and appreciated the new-to-Rochester music that Remmereit has introduced.

I've been impressed with his injection of poetry readings into the concerts. From what I hear, he has done wonderful community outreach. And I wish this could have worked out differently.

But I'm not joining the "Save Arild" movement. Based on what I've been able to learn from both sides, I think the RPO board did the only thing it could do: voted to terminate his contract.

Few of us know the full story; I certainly do not. This is a sensitive personnel issue, and anyone who has been involved in management knows that out of respect to everyone involved, you don't make the details public. The people who do know the full story are the members of the RPO's board and honorary board. And as is the case in many conflicts, board members with the same first-hand knowledge have reached different conclusions.

I've heard passionate discussions from people on both sides - all of whom, I believe, are trying to do what's best for an orchestra they love. Here's what I've concluded, though, from what I do know:

1) The problem is more than just a "personality problem" between Remmereit and the RPO's CEO, Charlie Owens, though at first that may have seemed to be the case. That wouldn't be surprising. The music director is in charge of the music; the CEO is in charge of the budget. If both are strong people doing their job, there's an innate tension between the two, the music director wanting more music (more rehearsals, for instance; more musicians) and the CEO charged with balancing the books (even during a recession; even in a town in which a major donor, Kodak, is in bankruptcy).

But according to a board statement released on Saturday, the problems were widespread - tension between Remmereit "and members of the RPO staff, board, and orchestra." The RPO's management isn't perfect. I've heard from several formerly substantial donors who are upset about their own treatment and about development efforts. But there were no reports of organization-wide problems prior to Remmereit's arrival.

2) The board has tried, for more than a year, to set things right. Initially, board leaders tried to remedy the situation themselves. But, they say, the problem grew worse, and the board brought in a consultant to identify what was causing it.

The consultant advised the board on ways to "heal" the organization, to use board president Betsy Rice's words. The board laid out expectations for Remmereit for improvement. That was in June. Now, five months later, board leaders say, the problems remain. And the board majority is convinced that the situation is irreparable.

The majority board members have taken a lot of heat for their decision, so it's important to note that they didn't just throw up their hands in exasperation. They sought input from RPO musicians - and from the RPO's Pops conductor, Jeff Tyzik, and its education and outreach conductor, Michael Butterman, and from conductor-laureate Christopher Seaman.

Tyzik has issued a statement expressing support for the board. So has one of the orchestra's top benefactors, the Elaine P. and Richard U. Wilson Foundation, calling the decision to terminate Remmereit "difficult" but "necessary." Foundation chair Deborah Wilson is also an RPO board member.

Clearly, Remmereit has a strong following. And maybe, in the end, we'll learn that his supporters were right. But many of those supporters seem to have heard only one side of this conflict. I've heard two sides, and I believe the board did the right thing.

Sadly, at the moment, the conflict is hurting no one more than the musicians themselves. While individual conductors can do great things with an orchestra - can bring out strengths and lead it to new musical heights - it is the musicians, not the conductor, who are the most important.

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