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Another RPO Musician Speaks Out

January 29, 2013

David Brickman, RPO Principal Second Violinist since 1989, posted this letter on Norman Lebrecht’s internationally known blog, Slipped Disc.

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.

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  1. Susan maybeck permalink

    Thank you for your letter. I hope more of your colleagues will share their views. Isn’t the point of collaboration that the board seeks from maestro Remmereit is to share all perspectives?

  2. I hope that more people will speak out. Will local attorneys please come forward to represent musicians who speak out pro bono and to help keep the story in the press so that all of us can learn what REALLY went on here?

  3. Dave and Kathy Whitlock permalink

    We no longer know what to believe. We’ve heard from two RPO players we know and respect greatly who share the opposing opinion. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle; and we may never know. As the saying goes, time heals all things, and we trust that will be true of this situation as well, but in the interim, we, the public, must support the players, whichever side they – or we – are on.

    • Responding to Dave and Kathy Whitlock:

      Mr. Remmereit was one of the ‘players’ yet did not receive support so it’s not OK simply to shrug this off. Give him his title back, with respect and then we can talk about “time heals all things”. Doesn’t this community not have more to offer than this?

      Kris Nielson-Key, Canandaigua

      • I am in a similar boat as the Whitlocks, in that I also have people I respect on both sides. I have to disagree with Kris Nielson-Key, though, because the music director is not a “player”. His job is to be more than that. In addition to his artistic duties, he holds responsibilities in fundraising, working with the orchestra committee, to work with committees for planning, auditions, tenure review, etc.

        Looking at the people who are passionate supporters of Remmereit, I notice that (to my knowledge), these are people who have not worked with him administratively. I can imagine that this difference gives the two “sides” essentially equally correct points of view, if they understand the limitations of the scope of how they know him. I don’t think anyone would say that he was fired simply because someone disagreed with his artistic decisions, or even his rehearsal demeanor (even if they didn’t work well with him). The bulk of the feedback that I have heard, both publicly, and in private conversations with players, also confirms that it was not a kneejerk reaction, but rather a well-documented saga that started with problems between Remmereit and the administrative staff.

        At this point, I think it’s hard to believe that he would come back. It will probably not go away quietly, and the whole thing will probably go into arbitration. This arbitration is, from the perspective of people I have talked to, the main reason that the RPO management has avoided giving substantive details. This frustrates me as much as anyone, trust me, but it’s unfortunately how the system seems to work.

        That being said, the orchestra does have to go through that process, and hopefully find out how to prevent it from happening again. Maybe that means a new CEO (although I haven’t seen any proof that he was grossly at fault). Maybe that means that the board needs some new members. But no matter what changes it brings going forward, we have to try to support the players of the orchestra, rather than staying stuck in the past.

  4. I do not understand why the RPO management and Board have said nothing about any substantive issues that separate their views from Remmereit’s. We are entitled to know before we can judge the relative merits of their positions, and knowing this in no way violates the confidentiality of personnel matters. In the absence of such information, the Board have only themselves to blame if we conclude that they have capriciously taken sides in a purely personal vendetta.

  5. Jennie Oberholtzer permalink

    Thank you so much for your courage in speaking out, Mr. Brickman. Too bad it has taken so long to hear from some of the musicians who still support Maestro Remmereit. But I am glad you had the gumption to do it, and I sincerely hope that more musicians who feel as you do will come forward. When I attended the annual meeting, I saw perhaps a dozen musicians. I believe they were all there to support the Board’s position. But that means about 2/3rds were not there! I’d like to believe it was because they support Arild.

  6. ted cichanowicz permalink

    I’m curious to know how much involvement the other music directors had in those things ‘off the podium’ since many of them did not choose to live here year round like Arlid. Perhaps someone can enlighten us on this as it would be helpful.
    The musicianship does not seem to be the issue as many of the respected musicians have been willing to discuss. It also seems like the most contrary musicians to the Maestro would appear to be more of a major personality conflict, which seemed to grow with every passing month. The fact that there are some so far, that have publicly declared that there was nothing at all wrong or unusual with the way he ‘conducted’ himself musically would seem to indicate that feathers were ruffled off the stage not on…and this is what the audience reacts to. Its why the concert goers are very conflicted, unhappy and bewildered at the way this has been handled. The audience buys the tickets, attends the concerts and responds to what they hear and see. What we have all seen and heard have been extraordinary performances by this talented orchestra every single time Mr Remmereit conducted. So musicians should not scold the audiences for being angry. When the product is so good, why should we tolerate such craziness from the Board…who does not in any way create the music or cause people to show up at concerts?
    If Mr Brickman’s account is accurate, which many feel it most definitely is (why would one of the RPO’s most generous benefactors make up a story like this?), it most definitely calls into serious question the lack of prudent leadership by this Board and Mr Owens in particular. Mr Owens not ‘grossly at fault’??? He is at the heart of this fiasco and his misadventures began long before Arlid arrived in town. Let us not forgot the ‘****harrassment incident that was conveniently swept under the rug. Under his leadership, there has been continued turmoil. Why he doesn’t do the right thing and step aside is to continue this sorry episode in the RPO history. We are not in the least fooled by the article he and Ms Rice wrote for the D&C. It was hollow and pandering.

  7. Jeff Bunsen permalink

    I have a general question that I have not seen addressed anywhere else. I want to make it clear that I am actually curious; I am NOT being rhetorical or sarcastic:

    Why do people other than Arild feel they have the right to legally challenge the board’s decision? If the board of the Salvation Army or the YMCA or WXXI decided to oust an employee, can you imagine outside admirers bringing legal action against them? Just because a non-profit takes donations from individuals, that does not usually mean those individual have a vote. Nonprofits are still private businesses, not democracies.

    Of course Arild has the right to challenge, but on what grounds do his fans think they have that right? What am I missing?

    • Peter Maurer permalink

      Individuals who are members of a non-profit have the right to elect new board members. How this happens varies depending on the bylaws of the organization, and possibly by state.

      In the case of the RPO, 9 candidates are elected to a 3 year term every year. However, according to the RPO bylaws, nominees must be named by October 31 prior to the annual meeting. They terminated Remmereit’s contract on November 29, weeks after the deadline for new nominees could be put forward.

      We feel a new board is necessary because they not only fired Remmereit, but also have left the organization a $750,000 debt. At least 20 people have left under Owens’ tenure, and the current board and management accept no responsibility whatsoever.

      Because we are members, and the board is (theoretically) supposed to represent us as well as assisting in managing the organization, we feel our concerns should be addressed. (Rice and her supporters will argue that she did address our concerns.)

      Did I answer your question?

  8. Thomas Warfield permalink

    Thank you for your courage and honesty and integrity …. And to speak your heart inspire of fear

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