Play music, not politics |

Play music, not politics

Aspen, CO Colorado

At this point, we don’t know how the leadership mess at the Aspen Music Festival and School will shake out – whether Alan Fletcher, the deposed and possibly reinstated president and CEO, will still be the organization’s chief when the 2010 summer festival rolls around.

We may never know all the internal maneuvering that went on between board members and board committees, between factions of faculty musicians, between the artistic side and the administrative side. We may not find out what the bottom-line cause is of all the evident strife – whether it’s Fletcher’s personality (doubtful), poor handling of the faculty layoffs as mandated by the Music Festival’s Strategic Plan (more likely), or the tension that results from bad economic times and the resulting downturn in donations to arts nonprofits (certainly possible).

But we do know this: The recent – and ongoing – drama is more appropriately found on the opera stage, not in the offices of Aspen’s most significant and beloved arts organization. (Nor on the pages of local newspapers.) Putting the president on such shaky ground is terrible for the Music Festival as a whole: Won’t donors think twice before signing a check to an organization that doesn’t have a leader today, and might not have one seven months from now, when the festival season gets underway? Will potential students go elsewhere next summer? Will top artists hesitate before putting Aspen on their itinerary?

A significant portion of the blame must be placed on the executive committee of the Music Festival’s board of directors. Last month the committee voted to oust Fletcher, without bringing this most significant matter before the full board. If the committee had good reason for its action, it should have laid it on the table – not abruptly made the announcement, giving no details whatsoever behind its decision. As it turns out, the ouster of Fletcher was eventually brought to the full board, which voted to offer Fletcher his job back.

Clearly, if Fletcher does return, he will be in a weakened position. (A press release regarding whether Fletcher has accepted the offer has been held up for nearly a week now – another indication of the lack of solidarity at the Music Festival.) Still, we come down on the side of reinstating Fletcher, whose tenure, from an outsider’s perspective, has been marked by noteworthy collaborations with other local arts organizations, a loyal year-round staff, and excellent music-making. If there are relationships to fix, let that be the first agenda of The Fletcher Years, Part II.

And as many close observers of the festival have asked in recent weeks: What are the odds that another new president – who would be the third in eight years – would be a significant improvement?

It is time for Music Festival board members and faculty to stop acting like children in a playground and put aside personality differences and petty grievances. All parties involved should keep their eye on the mission of educating students, putting on exceptional concerts, and furthering the cause of music. The Aspen Music Festival is too vital to Aspen and to the music world to be tarnished any further.

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