Arild Remmereit resigns from Rochester Chamber Orchestra

07:56 PM, Sep 30, 2013


Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

For the second time this year, Arild Remmereit has taken a tumultuous exit from the conductor’s stand of a major Rochester classical organization. Ten months after the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra announced that it had terminated Remmereit’s contract, and six months after it was announced that Remmereit would become the music director of the Rochester Chamber Orchestra, that group announced that it has accepted his resignation.

Arild did set some conditions we didn’t feel we should conceding to,” said RCO board member Ray Grosswith. “He wanted to be in charge of the entire organization. We felt we could not let that happen as a board. We feel it needs to be a collaboration.”

Asking for total control is nonsense,” Remmereit said Monday afternoon. “More and more over a period of time, it became clear to me that the ambitions I would have for this orchestra would not be ones that this organization as an institution in existence for 50 years would be happy about. I felt that my ambitions for the orchestra were interfering with what the orchestra wanted to be. I thought it would be best to get out of it now.”

And those ambitions? Remmereit pointed to his last performance with the Rochester Chamber Orchestra on Sept. 19 at Kilbourn Hall, when he conducted the group in a multi-media production that he created, Remembering Frederick Douglass, as part of the recently concluded First Niagara Fringe Festival. That show used music, dance, art and particularly the words of the Rochester abolitionist to call for tolerance and equity in society.

It is important for artists to make statements that are fundamentally important for the community,” Remmereit said Monday. “Arts are not entertainment, artists are communicators of the time. I believe I would like to find inspiration from these great spirits, Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, to make this a greater place.”

And Remmereit, who said “I am still a Rochesterian,” has a dream: To create a new group, the Frederick Douglass Youth Orchestra, which would use Douglass’ inspiring 19th century words to lead Rochester, and all who will listen, in the 21st century.

As for the Rochester Chamber Orchestra’s future, David Fetler returns to the stand to conduct three of the group’s four remaining concerts this season. Up next is a 3 p.m. Oct. 27 show, “Composers of African Descent,” at Hochstein Performance Hall.

Fetler founded the RCO 50 years ago. “We were hoping Arild would be his successor, on his 50th anniversary,” Grosswirth said, admitted that the conflict between the group and Remmereit was “an ongoing situation.”

Remmereit agreed. “The mutual feeling that we are not in 100 agreement has been going on some time.”

This orchestra is David Fetler’s, he started it 50 years ago,” Remmereit said. “When the potential of collaboration emerged, of potentially taking over from David Fetler, it was very important to me that this can only be something that has potential if he wants it. We had many conversations about how such a collaboration takes place.”

Now both the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the Rochester Chamber Orchestra are shopping for new music directors.

I can best describe it as being in the market for a new pair of shoes,” Grosswirth said. “And we’re obviously looking for the best fit for the Rochester Chamber Orchestra.”

Remmereit was dismissed as musical director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in January after a tumultuous two-year relationship with that organization’s board. His firing sparked some protests from members of the RPO and the classical community, who favored Remmereit’s move toward more-contemporary pieces, particularly ones by women composers.

Like many Rochesterians, I can be with or without work,” Remmereit said. And he’s likely to be without for a while, he concedes. Despite upcoming guest-conductor dates in Baltimore and Buffalo, “There is no place I need to be soon,” he said.

Scheduling for the business is a slow one,” Remmereit said of the classical music world. “It’s not that my agent can jump on the phone and all of a sudden I have a full calendar. That, and all of the negative publicity that has been generated, it’s no secret now that I have plenty of time.”

So he allows himself the time to dream of “the opportunity to lead the Frederick Douglass Youth Symphony.” But his present still reverberates with the well-received Remembering Frederick Douglass.

That program is valid in all places at all times,” Remmereit said. “My wish it is that it is not a one-time statement, but a continuous statement.” Douglass, he said, “spoke up for women’s rights, for Native Americans, Jews in Frankfurt and Rome. Where did he find the information? He wasn’t even allowed to have books. Frederick Douglass, in my opinion, was a genius of a very special kind, on a global level.”

And a good launching point for such a message, Remmereit said, is where it started. “I have been blessed with being a Rochesterian for two years,” he said. “I don’t want to sell myself as the guy that knows this community inside and out. But there are conditions here I do not feel comfortable with. An artist must be a mirror and commentator of our time.

Rochester is the right size, we can bring our act together around his spirit. Rochester should celebrate the spirit of Frederick Douglass in order to make this a better place. There is a lot to be done here, and it is urgent.

These are essential issues for me. I need to be a part of a living community and not a part of a little faction of a community that needs to be entertained. That’s not the way the arts should be embracing a community.”