Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
Aspen, CO Colorado
Those of you who are into noticing things may have noticed that I haven’t written a column in several months.
In fact, I have spent my time since the end of last year wandering through Our Great Nation’s Health Care Fun House.
Some day, I may well write about it all in more detail, but today’s not the day. A wise man once said, “Never get off a roller-coaster in the middle of the ride,” and I think that means I shouldn’t write about my health care battles until all the bills are settled. Or until the first lawsuit is filed, whichever comes first.
But I will note that with the pain and the drugs and a few other complications I spent a long time in a kind of fuzzy, hazy daze.
For weeks, I didn’t watch television, didn’t use my computer, didn’t read the newspapers. I was – in this age of total connection – completely out of touch.
I found it wonderfully calming. Even after the drugs wore off. And, frankly, I was enjoying my vacation from reality and hoping to continue it – until my tranquility was rudely interrupted by the events I am calling … The Great Aspen Music Festival Murder Mystery.
Well, OK, festival Music Director David Zinman isn’t dead, but he is gone and the question, as always, is: Did he jump? Or was he pushed?
Or, to cut to the heart of the matter: Why did David Zinman quit?
To some extent, I suppose, it is not really much of a mystery.
Last fall, there was great uproar when Zinman’s boss, CEO Alan Fletcher, was fired and then – sha-zam! – rehired, as the festival board of directors squabbled, battled and, in the end, descended into chaos and maybe even cannibalism. (Noted without comment: Fletcher was fired by the board’s nine-member executive committee – those who worked most directly with the festival and with Fletcher. He was rehired by the full 50-member board, whose working connection to the festival and Fletcher was much more tenuous.)
And, in the wake of the firing and rehiring, no one seemed to know why. Or, more accurately, those who knew weren’t talking.
But one thing that did emerge was the fact that Fletcher had alienated a lot of the musicians, outraged a lot of the faculty, and, angered David Zinman – the man who most specifically represented the artists.
At the time, last November, The Aspen Times reported, that Fletcher “acknowledged that conflict had arisen inside the festival – in particular between himself and David Zinman.”
This week, the Times reported that Fletcher “acknowledged that he has heard talk that he and Zinman did not get along well.” (Perhaps, if he “heard” that talk, he heard it by listening to himself last fall.) But, Fletcher continued, he and Zinman had “multiple friendly lunches” last summer. (“Friendly lunches” – gee, it just doesn’t get much better than that.)
“There must have been problems,” Fletcher continued. “But I felt they were on his side, and not on mine. I have had no troubles working with David.”
Well, yesterday, Zinman issued a statement that made it crystal clear that he did indeed have problems working with Alan Fletcher – and that Alan Fletcher knew all about problems.
Zinman wrote, “Fletcher was more than aware of our inability to work together. I have made it clear that I felt strongly that my opinions no longer mattered nor were they seriously considered … I find myself unable to continue to work in an atmosphere of tension, uncertainty and disrespect.”
And, while Zinman’s unhappiness has been traced back to the handling of reductions in faulty and students, he made it clear that change, per se, is not what bothered him.
“Change can be refreshing,” Zinman wrote, “if it is achieved with respect for what has gone before.”
This is particularly interesting in light of a statement from a festival board member who wrote about Fletcher last fall, “I have watched as this CEO has decided that history is irrelevant, that the [music festival] world began only with his arrival.” So much for respecting “what has gone before.”
And now it’s time to wrap up this little investigation.
The unavoidable conclusion is that David Zinman jumped, but only after being pushed to the very edge by Alan Fletcher. And that pushing was aided and abetted by the festival’s directors, who overruled their own executive committee who thought it was Fletcher who needed to go.
But, all of that said, it is clear (to me, at least) that there’s a lot more that we don’t know yet. And I hope we find out.
I hope we find out, not because I love good gossip (although I do), but because the Aspen Music Festival and School is so important to this town.
The festival is a big chunk of the heart and soul of Aspen. For more than 60 years, from the very beginning of Aspen’s “renaissance,” it has been the foundation stone of this town’s artistic dreams, ambitions and reputation.
Yes, we have dance and film and drama and artists of all sorts. And a lot of them are damn good.
But the one true world-class shining light of Aspen’s arts community has been the music festival.
And now it has lost David Zinman, a man who wrote, “For the past 12 years of my life, my greatest joy has been the summers in Aspen. … Everything concerning my work with the young students far outweighed the concerts I gave, even in the major cities around the world. …
“Famous soloists and conductors come and go, but what a young student experiences in Aspen will last a lifetime. Some will perform, and others will go on to be the audiences of the future. It is not important which road they will choose, but how they experience the journey.”
That man understands the real meaning of Aspen and the music festival.
Now he has been driven away and we need to know why. So our losses do not multiply endlessly into the future.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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