‘Clear path forward’
Two weeks ago, Alan Fletcher, the new president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival and School, finally saw his first concert in Aspen, an occasion filled with good omens. In a Harris Hall filled with people and enthusiasm, violinist Joshua Bell, an alumnus of the Aspen Music School, performed, in Fletcher’s opinion, marvelously. Accompanying Bell was pianist Jeremy Denk, a friend of Fletcher’s.”It’s a perfect testament to what Aspen is. If all concerts can be like that … ” said Fletcher, his voice trailing off in a realization that friends, packed houses and perfect music might not mark every concert.
Still, in his first day at the Aspen Music Festival and School, Fletcher spoke Wednesday with confidence that his tenure will be marked by many more such days. The aspects of the job that have been presented as challenges, Fletcher, 49, sees as opportunities.On living in Aspen, far removed from the city life he has been accustomed to, Fletcher wondered, “Why is that anything but an honor?” As for the task of fundraising, often seen as the necessary but evil flip side of making music, Fletcher said his years as provost of Boston’s New England Conservatory proved not only that he had a knack for it, but he enjoyed it.”People say, ‘You’re going to have to do fundraising,'” noted Fletcher, who left his job as head of the School of Music and professor of composition at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University to come to Aspen. “And my answer is always, ‘That will be a great pleasure.'”
Fletcher – like his predecessor, Don Roth, who left the music festival after a somewhat difficult four-and-a-half-year tenure – acknowledged that another facet to the job is the lingering specter of Robert Harth. Harth, who left Aspen to take the top job at Carnegie Hall in 2001 and died three years later, presided over the Aspen organization for 12 years. That legendary stretch included the building of Harris Hall, the hiring of music director David Zinman and the opening of the Benedict Music Tent. Fletcher, though, is happy to serve under such a legacy.”His stamp is on so many things about the festival. He was a great personality,” said Fletcher, who was a friend of Harth’s and a colleague of Harth’s father, Sidney, at Carnegie Mellon. “I see it as a great positive, to have someone like that in the history of the organization. He was a great leader, but greatness is not intimidating. It’s exciting.”Perhaps most exciting to Fletcher is the opportunity he sees in Aspen to affect the future of classical music. The Aspen Music Festival, unique in the classical music world, has long had students playing in orchestras, side by side with professionals. That experience is frequently an invaluable one for the approximately 750 students who come to Aspen each summer from all over the world. And the artist-student bond is immeasurably attractive for Fletcher, who, unlike past music festival presidents dating back to Gordon Hardy in the early ’70s, came from the educational realm and not the orchestral world. “We talked a lot about the mission, the link between the artists who come here and the students, and that this is an unbreakable link,” said Fletcher, referring to the many meetings he had with the music festival’s search committee, board of trustees and faculty. “That’s what became most intriguing to me. Aspen can do what even great conservatories don’t do. It can play a role for young musicians that their conservatory doesn’t play. Not more important, but complementary to it.”
Fletcher says that, as his talks with music festival representatives got deeper, it became clear that they shared that vision with him.”The past couple of years have been a challenge for the organization,” he said. “But in all these conversations, I felt we had a clear path forward. It’s a question of fit.”Anything can happen to anyone. But the organization, top to bottom, is really committed to making this work.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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