RPO to cut summer season by 3 weeks

10:49 PM, Feb 01, 2013

Elizabeth Rice, chairperson of the board of directors for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, talks with the Democrat and Chronicle's editorial board on Friday. (TINA YEE / Staff Photographer)/

Written By Catherine Roberts and Stuart Low | Staff writers

The summer season of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra will be cut by three weeks as part of the plan to narrow the organization’s operating deficit of $746,000.

Board chairwoman Elizabeth Rice and CEO Charles Owens met with the Democrat and Chronicle Editorial Board on Friday, covering a wide range of issues, mainly regarding the termination of Arild Remmereit, including details of why he was fired.

Rice and Owens after the meeting shared details of the contract agreement with musicians. It included $328,000 in orchestra wage and benefit cuts (mainly pension contributions) for the current fiscal year, which ends in August. An additional $185,000 will be saved through wage and benefit cuts to RPO staff and administration, including leaving some positions open. Finally, $273,000 will be saved through cuts in production-related and advertising expenses.

Over the next three years of the contract, a week will be added to the orchestra’s season annually and the pension contributions will be added back in. In year three, a small pay increase for the musicians will be added as well. At the end of the four years, the RPO will be back to a 39-week season.

During the meeting, Rice laid out the board’s position and the timeline in regard to Remmereit’s tenure. The board voted in November to end Remmereit’s tenure in August, two years early, and then last week voted to end it immediately.

He had great artistic vision, no doubt about that,” Rice said.

Owens said the search committee weighed artistic vision above everything else in the search for a new conductor. The panel had positive reviews from administrators in cities where Remmereit had been a guest conductor — but he had no full-time management jobs before Rochester.

Remmereit and his Rochester attorney, Glenn Pezzulo, are still negotiating the remainder of his contract with RPO administrators. In the meantime, he has been hired to lead the Rochester Chamber Orchestra on Feb. 24 and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in the fall.

Remmereit has said he was not treated fairly in the process that led up to the termination.

Rice took issue with Remmereit’s concerns and laid out several key points. From the start, she said, there were management issues and clashes with Owens. Rice said she took over as board chair in May 2011, and almost from the start, she was coaching Remmereit on how to interact with Owens, the board and the staff.

The problems came to a head in January 2012 when Remmereit asked Rice to fire Owens. In February, the board decided that the RPO needed both men and that they should take steps to build their professional relationship. Both worked with coaches starting in the spring.

We decided that you set expectations, you hold them accountable and you monitor the situation,” Rice said. “That’s exactly what we did.”

Rice, answering criticism from some former board members, said that the full board was involved and updated on the situation.

In the fall, the board’s executive committee decided to assess the situation as the process began for programming for the 2013-14 season.

We wanted to make sure that this relationship that had a difficult start was fixed and moving forward,” she said.

She has said Owens met the board’s expectations. However, Remmereit still had not, she said Friday.

Pezzulo maintained that Owens sometimes thwarted Remmereit’s initiatives.

Charles had the ability to say one thing to Arild’s face but not follow up,” Pezzulo argued. “For instance, Arild wanted to reach out to every school in the community. Charles said yes, but there was no follow-up by him and the administrative staff.”

Rice faulted Remmereit for his behavior during the RPO’s contract negotiations with musicians. Because of the orchestra’s large deficit, these included discussion of concessions. She said that against protocol and labor regulations, Remmereit let musicians know that he didn’t agree with the concessions.

Rice also had told Remmereit to stop publicly criticizing staff and calling for Owens’ resignation. But he continued to do both, she said. In addition, she said that during exit interviews in the last fiscal year, four people, including two vice presidents, cited their dealings with Remmereit as the reason or a major reason for leaving.

Finally, Rice pointed out that attendance was down for the Philharmonic Series in the fall and that overall, revenue was down 6 percent for the fall concerts.

All of these points, Rice said, led to the November vote.