Overflow crowd supports RPO conductor Arild Remmereit

05:00 AM, Jan 10, 2013

Arild Remmereit, former conductor of the RPO, center, leaves to a standing ovation at the Kate Gleason Auditorium in the downtown Central Library on Thursday after making his first public comments since being terminated by the RPO. Speaker after speaker hailed the quality of his concerts and asked what could be done to keep him in town. (SHAWN DOWD//staff photographer)/


Written By Stuart Low | Staff writer

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An overflow crowd of about 225 people showed their support for Arild Remmereit in an emotionally charged Thursday night meeting at the downtown Central Library.

Those in attendance also wondered what they could do if they oppose the board vote to terminate the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra music director.

This is a time of trouble for many in the RPO community,” said Remmereit, 50, in his first public comments since the vote on Nov. 28 to end his contract in August, two years early. “Emotions are running high.”

But he also recalled his thrill at the enthusiastic welcome that the community gave his performances and innovative programming. He still believed that with support, the RPO “has a great opportunity to prosper.”

His own chances for finishing out the season, however, seem in doubt. Remmereit wasn’t paid last month, his Rochester lawyer, Glenn Pezzulo, reported.

Remmereit and Pezzulo are negotiating with the board on his future with the orchestra. The RPO administration has just hired two guest conductors for concerts that Remmereit was expected to lead from Jan. 24 to Jan. 27.

There’s no timeline for the negotiations,” Pezzulo said. “We’re hopeful this can be resolved before going to court.”

The meeting was organized by a group of 16 Remmereit supporters. They included philanthropist Betty Strasenburgh, retired City Hall administrator Ray Grosswirth and newly resigned RPO board members Gwen Sterns, Nannette Nocon and Kishan Pandya.

I’ve attended RPO concerts for more than 50 years, and no conductor has excited me as much as Arild Remmereit,” said Grosswirth, 63, of Henrietta.

Many audience members wore ceramic brooches with a David Cowles illustration of Remmereit’s face. Speaker after speaker hailed the quality of Remmereit’s concerts and asked what could be done to keep him in town.

Moderator Eileen Buholtz, a Rochester attorney, said the decision is up to Remmereit, his lawyer and the board. But she believed that RPO members can wield the power of their vote at the RPO’s annual meeting on Jan. 23. She encouraged people to show up to Eastman School of Music’s Hatch Hall, even if they had to stand in the atrium. She said that it’s even more critical to start forming an alternate slate for next year’s election. It could take three years of elections before the board’s makeup can be changed, she cautioned.

RPO violinist John Sullivan gave an insider’s perspective of the mixed reception that Remmereit has received from his musicians.

A few of my colleagues were vociferously opposed to him, others felt that he had been harshly and unfairly judged, and others don’t feel strongly either way,” he said. “I’ve felt musically inspired playing under him. … This situation will be very slow to heal.”

Sharing her experience as a board member, Sterns said that “the joy I felt in the concert hall was shattered by the discord in the board room. They did not share Remmereit’s vision or appreciate his obvious talent.”

After the meeting, Rochester Musicians Association president David Angus weighed Remmereit’s current prospects on the RPO podium.

A lot of well-intentioned people are inspired by Arild’s charisma and creativity, and that’s great,” he said. “But he’s not a collaborator. A high percentage of the RPO leadership and staff had input into the board’s Nov. 28 decision. I think there’s virtually no chance that Arild will be back as music director.”

Meanwhile, RPO musicians are negotiating for a new contract. On Friday, the negotiating committee is expected to present a contract offer. Players will have up to 72 hours to review it. The results will affect the orchestra’s finances, already impacted by an operating deficit exceeding $700,000.