Harmony missing at Aspen Music Festival
November 10, 2009
ASPEN – The Aspen Music Festival and School appears to be on the verge of reinstating Alan Fletcher as the organization’s president and CEO, after he was abruptly ousted in mid-October.
But the reunion, which had not been finalized as of Monday evening, is not a completely happy one. Those supporting Fletcher are divided against those in favor of the ouster, and the debate has reached an often bitter tone. The 60-year-old festival – which bills itself as “the United States’ premiere classical music festival,” and which is by far Aspen’s biggest nonprofit arts organization – is short on harmony these days.
The Aspen Times has learned, through multiple sources connected with the festival, that the Aspen Music Festival’s board of directors has made an offer to rehire Fletcher. The two sides were working Monday on the terms of the agreement. (All people contacted for this article requested anonymity, citing potential loss of employment, lawsuits, or both.)
When Fletcher, who had originally been hired to lead the festival in early 2006, was forced out last month, the surprise decision was announced in a brief press release that included no statement from Fletcher or any statement attributed to a member of the organization. The press release said that Fletcher would “step down” effective at the end of last month, and that a search committee would be formed immediately to select a successor. The announcement made no mention of the fact that just a month earlier, Fletcher’s contract had been extended through the 2010 summer festival season.
The decision to remove Fletcher, the Times has learned, was made by the Music Festival’s executive committee, which consists of six members of the larger board of directors. In response, a board member who is not on the executive committee wrote a letter to Rob LeBuhn, the president of the board who also sits on the committee. The letter noted that the actions of the executive committee were detrimental to the music festival, and requested that the committee reverse its actions. It also called for the resignations of executive committee members. The letter stated that if such actions were not taken, the writer would call for a special meeting to remove members of the executive committee.
A special meeting was held last week, with the full board of directors voting to offer Fletcher his job back.
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Fletcher came under attack this past summer on two fronts. One was the handling of the reduction in the size of the faculty. A strategic plan for the festival, adopted this past spring, called for cutting several faculty positions. (It also called for decreasing the duration of the summer festival by a week, beginning with the 2010 festival, and reducing the size of the student body.) There have been charges that the administration poorly handled the reduction in faculty size. Eventually, after internal negotiations, the reduction in faculty amounted to less than 10 percent of the total – a smaller reduction than had been initially planned.
Also, late this summer, several people expressed, in letters to the editor of local newspapers, their dissatisfaction with Fletcher’s personal demeanor. The letters stated that Fletcher snubbed certain audience members at concerts. A roughly equal number of letter writers responded by voicing their support for Fletcher.
The episode reveals the music festival as an organization divided. There have been reports of tension between Fletcher and David Zinman, the festival’s music director. One source said that there is a faction of board members that is looking to remove faculty musicians from the board of directors; the source said that currently there are 11 faculty members on the board. The faculty, like the board of directors, is divided into groups that would like to see Fletcher reinstated and those who support his dismissal.
If there is some semblance of solidarity at the Aspen Music Festival, it is within the year-round staff, which apparently is in agreement in its stance toward Fletcher. Last week, according to witnesses, the staff greeted the embattled president with a standing ovation at the music festival offices.