Fletcher discusses ‘very serious divisions’ at Aspen Music Festival
Ryan Summerlin April 16, 2010
ASPEN – A movement, led by a contingent of Aspen Music Festival faculty members, is under way to hold a no-confidence vote against Alan Fletcher, the nonprofit organization’s president and CEO.
In an interview with The Aspen Times on Thursday afternoon, Fletcher said that a meeting of festival trustees and faculty is likely to be held in around two weeks’ time, at which a vote will be proposed to weigh in on whether Fletcher should continue in the position he has held since early 2006.
Fletcher said that such a vote would hold no binding weight.
“The group that wants to do it doesn’t have the authority to do it, so it’s a symbolic vote,” he said. “But of course, that’s a powerful symbol.”
A faculty member, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, said that a no-confidence vote would be like “a shoot-out at the OK Corral.”
No matter which way the ballot turns out, the vote would be the latest piece of drama in what has been a tumultuous year for the festival, the Aspen area’s largest arts organization. In mid-October, the Music Festival announced that Fletcher would be “stepping down” from his position. It was later learned that the executive committee of the board of trustees had ousted Fletcher. A month later, a vote of the full board reinstated him, offering a contract that ran through the 2010 summer season, with provisions to extend his job through future seasons.
Much of the source of the turmoil stemmed from a strategic plan that had been adopted by the Music Festival board prior to last summer. Intended to address financial issues, as well as the long-standing concern over the length of the summer festival, the plan included reducing the festival from nine to eight weeks, and reducing the size of both the student body and the faculty. The elimination of faculty positions, and the manner in which that was handled, has been the biggest point of contention among the opposing factions.
Earlier this week, David Zinman, who had been the organization’s music director for 12 years, requested that he be released from his contract, which ran through this summer. The festival had been in negotiations to extend his term through the 2011 season, but, according to Fletcher, Zinman abruptly cut off those talks and asked that he be released from the final year of his contract. The festival accepted, and Zinman’s scheduled appearances in Aspen this summer have been canceled. A search for his successor has begun.
Zinman made a written statement, given to local newspapers this week, expressing his belief that “Fletcher’s vision for the festival was no longer the same as mine.” While proclaiming his joy for the Music Festival experience, he concluded that he was “unable to continue to work in an atmosphere of tension, uncertainty and disrespect.”
Festival insiders have become concerned about how the festival is being perceived, and worry that a no-confidence vote will only exacerbate the situation. “I think the idea of this meeting is going to continue these very serious divisions,” Fletcher said. “It potentially pits the faculty against the board. I think this perpetuates that.”
Fletcher added that the meeting could harm the search for a new music director. He said some “dazzling people are interested” in the position.
Veda Kaplinsky, a member of the piano faculty in Aspen for six years, believes the group calling for the vote is working against the organization’s best interests. That group includes several members of the Music Festival’s music committee, a group of 11 faculty members who make up part of the festival’s board of trustees.
“I feel the music committee is railroading the entire festival,” Kaplinsky, who is not a member of the committee, said. “Relentlessly, viciously, since last summer, they just won’t let go. It’s a suicide plan. Instead of letting things heal and letting things calm down and letting Alan do what he can do, they’re creating complete chaos.”
Kaplinsky, too, was concerned about the fallout from the in-fighting. “I’m afraid that if Alan leaves, the staff will be so demoralized that we’ll lose the whole staff,” Kaplinsky, who is chair of the piano faculty at New York’s Juilliard School, said.
The faculty member who insisted on anonymity, however, thought that Fletcher’s ongoing presence in Aspen would be more harmful.
“He should go,” the faculty member said. “He’s created a critical mass of bad intentions, bad feelings, and he should go find another job. He’s used lying, misinformation and spin to his benefit.”
Kaplinsky allowed that Fletcher’s handling of the faculty reductions last year may have been imperfect. But she added that he was following the strategic plan that had been adopted, and that Fletcher had “no axe to grind” and made his decisions “with no viciousness or attempt to hurt anybody” in the process. Kaplinsky added that Zinman removed himself from the process of eliminating faculty members, a charge that Fletcher also made last year.
Fletcher, Kaplinsky continued, “just wanted to bring the festival in the right direction, and no one would let him. He went out on a limb to change things and bring the festival into the 21st century. When you move forward, there are always things that are going to be painful.”
Fletcher thinks that, as the executive in charge of implementing a strategic plan that would never satisfy everyone, he has become a lightning rod for criticism.
“The board created a strategic plan to reduce faculty positions, which included people who everybody loves,” he said. “That’s tough for everyone, but right for the institution. It brings us through this financial downturn.
“But there’s a number of faculty who have never accepted that this even could happen, that we would ever reduce the faculty positions. This agenda of anger has taken over. It’s as if the whole thing was my idea.”
Fletcher believes that the Music Festival, a 60-year-old institution that bills itself as “America’s premiere music festival,” is at a critical juncture.
“Does the organization want to walk a straight line?” he said. “Can we pull together and be strong? Or be hopelessly divided? That’s the key point.”