Review: Arild Remmereit gets emotional sendoff

08:29 PM, Feb 24, 2013

Arild Remmereit gets emotional sendoff at Rochester Chamber Orchestra concert. (Photo provided by RPO)/

Written By Stuart Low | Staff music critic

A near-capacity crowd gave an emotional sendoff Sunday to Arild Remmereit, who was fired last month as the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director.

He led the Rochester Chamber Orchestra in a superbly performed program of classical symphonies and short Romantic pieces. This benefit at Hochstein Performance Hall raised $25,000 for the RCO and gave Remmereit’s local admirers a chance to say goodbye before he resumes his career as globetrotting guest conductor.

The RCO includes many RPO players, and their familiarity with Remmereit’s conducting style proved a blessing for this quickly put-together event. The passion and precision that marked the conductor’s RPO concerts were undiminished, starting with Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, “La Passione. Composed almost entirely in F minor, it has a dark, obsessive drive typical of this master’s “Storm and Stress” style.

Remmereit made the opening Adagio a hushed, searingly expressive lament. The violins delivered their mournful lines with a single voice — not easy to pull off, given Hochstein’s highly revealing acoustics. They played in period style with little vibrato and generally light bow pressure.

The RCO created sharp dynamic contrasts in the agitated Allegro, and gave the Menuet’s trio section the brisk uplift of an Austrian peasant dance. The Presto had a relentless drive, but never at the cost of accuracy.

Remmereit championed women composers throughout his brief RPO tenure, and introduced a masterful Allegretto by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (Felix Mendelssohn’s older sister) in Sunday’s program. Drawn from her String Quartet in E-Flat, it recalled her brother’s delicate scherzos and his facility with counterpoint.

Liane Curtis, founder of Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy (who also started a petition drive to try to convince the RPO to keep Remmereit), took the occasion to present Remmereit his second AMY Award for excellence in orchestral programming.

The Norwegian-born maestro turned to his homeland with Edvard Grieg’s Two Lyric Pieces. Evening in the Mountains drew a peak performance from oboist Zachary Hammond, while At the Cradle showed Grieg’s gifts as a delicate miniaturist.

The concert closed with a piece very likely inspired by Haydn’s Symphony No. 49 — Mozart’s Symphony No. 29, composed a year after he traveled to Vienna and heard Haydn’s latest “Storm and Stress” symphonies.

The RCO played the Mozart piece in the same robust period style as the Haydn work. The oboes and horns achieved a judicious balance with muted strings in the Andante, though the strings’ dotted rhythms sometimes sounded at loose ends in the Menuetto. Remmereit reined in his players for a swashbuckling finale that drew a long ovation.

Before and after the concert, Remmereit’s fans wondered out loud what could have gone differently in his RPO career. Throughout the turmoil preceeding his ouster, his “difficult” temperament was often cited in explaining conflicts with some RPO administrators and musicians.

Yet in my entire experience as a music critic and former violinist, I’ve rarely encountered gifted conductors with anything but “difficult” personalities.

Blame it on their hypersensitivity, their perfectionism or their knack for turning a band of strong-willed players into a musical team with one pulse and purpose. They tend to be a thorny breed, and require plenty of support and understanding to do what they do best.

Wherever he ends up settling next, Remmereit will bring the same intensity and uncompromising musical vision that marked his performances here. He’ll return to western New York to conduct the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on Nov. 2 and 3. For more on his future plans, go to