Why is the Music Festival not at peace?
On Thursday, at Harris Hall, the Aspen Music Festival and School “corporation” – a body comprising Music Fest board members, faculty and others – will hold a no-confidence vote on Alan Fletcher, the organization’s president and CEO.
While clearly much is not harmonious within the festival, we don’t think that registering a thumbs-down vote against Fletcher is the way, at this point, to correct the problems.
Earlier this month, David Zinman, who had been the music director for 12 years, resigned, leaving the festival without an artistic leader. A vote of no-confidence, while having no binding authority – it would not, in itself, remove Fletcher from his positions – would effectively gut his leadership. The organization, then, would be without both an artistic head and a strong administrative leader a few months before the start of the summer season. The potential for chaos in such a situation is too great, given the importance of the Music Festival to Aspen’s economy, vitality, and even its soul. As Zinman himself stated recently, the education of the students is the paramount mission of the organization. Despite our confidence in the abilities and intentions of the individual faculty members, a complete void of leadership would unquestionably be a disservice to those students.
We recommend that corporation members give Fletcher their vote of confidence tomorrow. If the atmosphere of tension, distrust and disunity continues this summer, there is a far more appropriate method of addressing the president’s status than a no-confidence vote as the festival season looms. Fletcher’s contract expires at the end of September, and if the board feels his performance is lacking, they can look for his successor. This strikes us as fair to both Fletcher and to the festival as a whole.
Our hope is that Fletcher will prove over the next five months to be up to the task of mending the festival. It is a considerable challenge. The rifts are extensive, the criticism has become personal, and the passions, expressed in public and private, obviously run deep. But there are good reasons to have confidence in Fletcher. His intellect is obvious. While there have been accusations that his fundraising ability has been lackluster, Jenny Elliot, the CFO of the organization, told The Aspen Times recently that donations over the last year or so have been down only between 5 and 7 percent – a solid showing given the economy. Though Fletcher has his detractors on the board and faculty, there have also been people, including key faculty members, outspoken in their support. It is telling that the full-time staff, the people who work day-in, day-out beside Fletcher, are now lined up behind him. And it is not as though the festival, to the outside observer, has appeared to be in free fall.
If, come the end of September, the atmosphere has not improved, maybe that is a signal that Fletcher is not the person to lead the festival to better times. It is, after all, a primary responsibility of the president to cultivate a positive environment. For the moment, though, the best interests of the festival – the ultimate goal that all parties agree on – require putting personalities aside and supporting Fletcher. For his part, Fletcher should do everything he can to mend relations, facilitate communication, and get everyone moving forward – in other words, to show he can do the job.
Three hundred years ago, William Congreve wrote that “Musick has charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks.” Let’s hope that is true in this case, that a summer filled with sweet music, rather than angry words, helps the Aspen Music Festival become a softer place.
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