It was a divided crowd of naysayers and supporters at the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra's annual meeting Wednesday night in Eastman Theater's Hatch Hall.
During the year in review meeting, the board of directors told RPO members the reason why they fired music conductor Arild Remmereit. Among them: failing to work collaboratively with the CEO, staff and musicians. That explanation didn't go over so for well for one supporter who thought Remmereit's artistic vision was good for the orchestra.
"We can no longer in good conscious continue to donate nor subscribe,”says Jenni Oberholtzer, of Fairport, while sliding her last donation to the RPO onto the Hatch Hall stage – which was 2 pennies taped to a sheet of paper. “I have turned in my tickets to tomorrow night’s concert, which Arild Remmeriet was scheduled to conduct."
RPO chair Elizabeth Rice addressed member's concerns about the music director’s termination saying he did not fulfill his commitments to build working relationships with the board, musicians and staff. She also adds the board's decision to cut Remmereit's contract short was not quick, but rather one that was being worked on for about a year and a half.
"It was an annual meeting and we know we had lots of questions out there in the public,” Rice says. “Lots of, not on purpose but, misinformation out there, rumors, speculations and we figured it was probably time to at least do it in an objectionable way as possible to let people know what's going on."
Rice also noted Remmereit has since dropped all communication with the RPO – missing auditions and failing to provide programming for upcoming performances. Principal flutist Rebecca Gilbert says she was pleased with how the meeting went and supports the board's decision.
“There were major, major problems in his leadership and not just with the administration but with the musicians,” Gilbert adds. “So a large majority of the musicians supported ending his contract early."
Gilbert says orchestra moral was deteriorating under the hand of Remmereit - calling his leadership style "punitive" and "demeaning". Rice says despite the internal turmoil and conflict, the RPO has been receiving continual support. In fact, one member thanked the board for explaining Remmereit’s dismissal and decided to increase their annual contribution to $25,000.
In Other Business:
The RPO is reporting a $746,000 operating budget deficit that's due to an increase in labor costs and a drop in ticket sales. The orchestra's treasurer says in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, they’re anticipating $786,000 in cost reductions. A breakdown: $320,000 cut in orchestra wages and benefits in the first year; $185,000 drop in staff wages and benefits plus reducing staff, and a $61,000 reduction in advertising expenses.
The board says so far the orchestra is ahead in its annual campaign by $200,000.
RPO members voted in eight board members Wednesday, two of which are new: Katherine T. Schumacher and Marie Kenton. That's in spite of a supporters group's request to suspend the annual meeting to propose an alternative slate of candidates, which a Supreme Court Justice turned down.
During the meeting, RPO CEO Charles Owens highlighted some of the orchestra's artistic accomplishments as well as noting the Carnegie Hall performance is still going forward even without a permanent music director.
A search committee is underway to replace Remmereit with its first meeting on Friday. Rice says the plan is to look for someone with music director experience this time around.