Aspen Music Fest CEO Fletcher stepping down
October 14, 2009
ASPEN – The Alan Fletcher era at the Aspen Music Festival and School is about to come to a seemingly abrupt end.
The Music Festival announced Tuesday that Fletcher, the organization’s president and CEO, will step down effective at the end of this month. The announcement, in the form of a press release, was brief, and included no statement from Fletcher nor any statement attributed to a member of the organization. It lacked any mention that just last month, Fletcher’s contract had been extended to run through next summer’s festival season. In a brief phone conversation, Rob LeBuhn, the chairman of the Music Festival board, offered no comment on Fletcher’s departure nor on Fletcher’s performance at the festival, though LeBuhn said Fletcher “is a very, very talented, intelligent person.”
The press release referred to Fletcher’s three “very successful seasons of music,” and noted his accomplishments in gaining approval for the master plan for the festival’s new Castle Creek campus, securing the lead gift for that project, and for a concert webcasting project begun last year. It also noted that a search committee will be formed immediately to hire Fletcher’s successor.
Fletcher came to the Aspen Music Festival in 2006, after serving as head of the School of Music and as professor of music at Carnegie Mellon University. He has been a visible presence while at the festival. He regularly delivered pre-concert talks to audiences, and forged high-profile collaborations with other local arts organizations, most notably Jazz Aspen Snowmass, which has moved its June Festival into the Music Festival’s Benedict Music Tent, and the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, which for three years has co-presented an evening at the Music Tent which had the company dancers performing with live accompaniment by Music Festival musicians.
A composer who earned a doctoral degree from Juilliard and taught at the New England Conservatory, Fletcher has had several of his pieces performed at the Aspen Music Festival, most notably his Clarinet Concerto, which was presented this past summer.
Fletcher’s public personality, however, became the subject of debate toward the end of the 2009 summer festival season. Several festival attendees wrote letters to the editor of the local newspapers, criticizing him for being cold to some audience members. A roughly equal number of writers defended Fletcher.
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Among the detractors was Aspenite Bruce Berger, a festival enthusiast since the mid-’50s and the author of “Music in the Mountains,” a 2001 history of the Music Festival. “My take is, he divided the world into people who were worth cultivating, and others he could ignore,” Berger said. “And when you’re the public face of something in the entertainment world, you can’t do that. If you’re representing something as public as the Music Festival, you can’t afford to be relating to half the audience and ignoring the other half.”
Fletcher also has supporters. Several people, including Music Festival staff and board members who declined to be identified publicly, expressed regrets over his parting with the organization. Among those who spoke on the record was Gram Slaton, the executive director of the Wheeler Opera House, who arrived in Aspen shortly before Fletcher.
“What a blow for the Music Festival and Aspen,” said Slaton, adding that his direct contact with Fletcher was not extensive. “I really have enjoyed working with Alan and knew that he had a tall order to fill taking that position.”
Much of the difficulty of Fletcher’s job had to do with recent changes at the festival, which called for cutting a week off the summer season, effective next year, and a reduction in the faculty size by nearly 10 percent. Fletcher told The Aspen Times last month that he had originally planned to make bigger cuts to the faculty, but at the request of David Zinman, the festival’s music director, the layoffs were less severe.
Berger believes that the handling of the faculty situation has played a significant role in Fletcher’s stepping down.
“There was so much resentment over that,” he said. “I’ve never seen the faculty in this state of emotion, of anger, when it’s usually a place of enjoyment over making the music. The audiences saw no difference in the music at all. But if you knew the musicians, this was the topic of the summer.”