After the board of directors of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Inc. decided last week to terminate the orchestra’s contract with Music Director Arild Remmereit immediately, Chairwoman Elizabeth Rice noted that "this has been a challenging time for the RPO, its musicians and staff, and the board."
That’s putting it mildly. The break with Mr. Remmereit, at a time of financial stress, has sharply divided the RPO and its many supporters.
Those who think the RPO is facing an unprecedented crisis, however, have short memories.
Several times since the late 1980s, the RPO has faced turmoil and financial crisis. In late 1991, extraordinary action by the board was required to make payroll. Over the next two years, the independent Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Fund Inc. took the unprecedented step of using additional endowment funds to steady operations and erase an accumulated deficit.
Yet by spring 1994, the RPO once more was at the brink. The orchestra pulled itself back into the black, only to find itself in crisis again less than a decade later.
Fast forward from 2003 to 2013. The RPO is reeling from a year with a $746,000 operating deficit and the uproar over Mr. Remmereit.
Some no doubt think the RPO is a dysfunctional organization that plays the same sorry tune over and over. The facts don’t support that view, however.
The situation today is very different from the dark days of the early 1990s. The orchestra’s board and executives-working with RPO musicians-have moved decisively to address the operating deficit.
As for the conflict with Mr. Remmereit, a full assessment is difficult at this point. But based on the available information, the claims that the RPO has been one-sided and was determined to undermine Mr. Remmereit from the start seem without merit.
What’s very clear is the need for the community to support the orchestra and its musicians, as it has in the past. As noted here two decades ago, the RPO is a big-city orchestra with a small-city revenue base-and it’s even more true with cuts in government support and from longtime corporate supporters.
Yes, there’s much to be learned from the RPO’s recent troubles. But first and foremost, this community asset must be preserved.
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