(This letter has been edited for consistency with our editorial policy.) Many members of our community, and others from further afield, have voiced their concerns about the turmoil at the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. One group has not spoken publicly: the musicians who feel that the Board of Directors' decision to terminate Music Director Arild Remmereit's contract was a mistake, musically and financially.
Although the public outcry has been overwhelmingly in support of Maestro Remmereit and against the Board's decision, this large group of musicians has been silenced by fear.
I write now to stand firmly in support of Arild Remmereit, as a conductor and as a human being.
This truly isn't an easy thing to do, in the midst of the upheavals at work. Were it not for the support of a large number of my respected colleagues who share my opinions and whose views I represent here also, and for the fact that an experienced attorney stands ready to assist if support of Maestro Remmereit results in retaliation from those who hold opposing views, I might have chosen to remain silent.
This unfortunate and probably unprecedented situation, in which RPO musicians have been placed in a position where their only choices are to remain silent about a matter of critical importance to them, or to contradict their colleagues publicly (a situation that any good orchestral board of directors should fight hard against, since it directly affects the quality of the product, which requires sincerely heartfelt collaboration and precise cooperation), is completely unnecessary and could have been easily avoided.
Something that seems very clear is that musician opinion was not what drove the decision-making process. On that topic, I speak from especially personal knowledge. My opinions of Arild Remmereit were not considered, even by some of my own colleagues. It's not enough to say that I enjoy playing under Maestro Remmereit, although I most certainly do. In addition, I firmly believe that his innovative, collaborative programming, with its focus on contemporary sensibilities and on our city's legacy; his compelling presence on the podium; his easy rapport with our audiences and supporters; and his attention to the details which take a performance from excellent to outstanding, are what would catapult our beloved RPO into the upper echelon of American orchestras.
As Arild Remmereit took the podium, I was very excited about the glorious future I saw on the RPO's horizon, and I was shocked to find that it was in jeopardy, through his threatened termination.
When I attempted, at an official orchestra musicians' meeting, to voice my impression of him as a person and my experiences at his rehearsals and concerts, I was told by one of my colleagues, a member of our annually elected five-member representative committee, that my positive opinion of Maestro Remmereit was not as important as certain negative opinions held by other musicians.
Shortly after that meeting, I filled out the first of two surveys given to musicians so that we could provide feedback about the Music Director, thinking that here would be my chance to voice my opinion. Sure enough, the results were tallied and showed that a strong majority of the musicians supported Maestro Remmereit. Very soon thereafter, though, a second survey was sent to us, with unusual instructions that it be returned to one member of the Board of Directors, who would compile the results.
When I called this board member to ask why, when a matter of such gravity was at stake, an impartial third party had not been designated to receive our responses and compile them, he referred me to the president of our local office of the American Federation of Musicians, who is also one of the orchestra musicians and who had approved the process. Because of the irregularities in the process whereby the second survey of musicians' opinions was taken, I declined to participate, along with quite a large number of my colleagues.
When a few musicians proposed to issue a statement to the press indicating that we, as a group, supported the actions of our Board of Directors, I addressed the room and asked that no such statement be issued without a great deal more conversation, as we were far from a unified body. The motion was carried to draft a statement, and many musicians understood that we would, at least, have the opportunity to discuss, edit, and approve it or not. Instead, the five-member committee drafted something that implied that musicians were united, and sent it out immediately.
Thus my memorably positive musical experiences with Arild Remmereit, and the strong impression I have of his integrity, his fairness, his kindness, and his sense of humor, have gotten very little exposure. By reading this, you have given me a voice, and I'm grateful. I'll be grateful, too, for your continued interest in, and support of, the music made by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
It is a very bad time for us, and I liken it to the Civil War, when members of families fought against each other. No matter what happens from now on, it will be a very slow recovery onstage and off, and that recovery hasn't even begun. I have never doubted that Arild Remmereit wants to fulfill his vision to see the RPO standing as one of this country's best orchestras, and I've never doubted that that is where we belong. I hope that all of us will yet see it happen.
Bock has been a cellist with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra since the David Zinman era.
(This letter has been edited for consistency with our editorial policy.) I would like to express sincere thanks and gratitude to the thousands of RPO members and patrons for your devotion and support over the years. I was appointed Principal Trumpet of the RPO in 1995 and have had the privilege of sharing great music with you and my colleagues for the past 18 years. In light of recent events I'd like to share some of my perspectives with you. I do want to stress that while I have spoken extensively with many of my RPO musician colleagues, it is not my intention to express anything other than my own personal opinion. No matter how we differ in our interpretations, I am fortunate and grateful for the opportunity to make music with all of my colleagues and collaborate with their tremendous talents.
The decision to terminate the contract of Arild Remmereit has sparked sharp protest from some in our community. My remarks here are not directed at them nor do I seek to change their opinions. They are passionate believers in their cause, and I respect their right to support it. I too for a period of time considered myself an ardent supporter of Mr. Remmereit. Sadly, during his brief tenure he managed to destroy the trust that I had invested in him. The ongoing negotiations between RPO Inc. and Mr. Remmereit do not permit me to share details, and even if I could I am not sure if it would mean much to those whose support for Mr. Remmereit is unmovable and entrenched. I admire their passion but feel uneasy about the disproportionate and overarching shadow that it has cast on evidence-based reason.
The fact that many musicians have expressed reservations about Mr. Remmereit is more than justified; it's an expression of healthy protest and a testament to our poise, maturity, and integrity as discerning adults. Informed dissent within any organization is a sign of strength, as it seeks to know and express the truth in ethical ways.
My perspectives are the direct result of a lengthy career as an orchestral musician. In my 27 years as a professional orchestral trumpet player, I have worked with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the City of Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. All told, I have played upwards of 4,500 concerts in North America, Asia, and Europe under internationally acclaimed conductors. Even before my professional career, I was exposed to inspiring conducting as a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center under Kurt Masur and Charles Dutoit. I was amazed at the level of musicianship and technique, was truly inspired by their gifts, and felt motivated to work harder than ever to make my dreams come true.
I've been very fortunate indeed to be afforded opportunities to observe world-class conductors as both guests and music directors. My view is informed by first-hand knowledge of their leadership styles both on and off the podium, observing their interactions with musicians, staff, and board members alike. Over the years I have been able to determine for myself how and why certain organizations are successful, why some are not, and the various gradations in between. While I cannot speak openly about details associated with Mr. Remmereit's dismissal, I can confidently state that I fully support the RPO Board's decision to terminate his contract. It was a lengthy, painstaking, and deliberative process – and it was a decision that took courage and integrity. The RPO has a 90-year tradition of bringing great music to Rochester, and I feel more confident than ever we will be carrying on that tradition through the years to come.
Prosser is principal trumpet of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and is an ex-officio member of the RPO board.