Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I usually try not to write on the same subject two weeks in a row, but things are coming to a boil over at the Music Festival – and how could I pass up the opportunity to dive headfirst into a boiling mud pit?
And believe me, “mud pit” is the right term. It’s dark and dirty in there, and it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to be able to escape without a thick coat of slime.
It is unfortunate that things came to a head in an episode that focused attention on the fight between Music Festival CEO Alan Fletcher and Festival Music Director David Zinman.
And, yes, I realize that my column last week did concentrate on that squabble and Zinman’s resignation. Still, the unfortunate part was that it allowed the episode to be painted as a battle of egos.
As one Festival board member said to me this week, “I love David, but he’s yesterday’s news. Now we have to worry about the future of the Festival.”
With that in mind – forgetting about who’s a sneak and who’s a pompous old fart and who’s standing on the dock throwing a metaphorical cinder block to a drowning man – we need to get to the essential issue here: Alan Fletcher’s management ability.
There are those who support Mr. Fletcher, saying he’s doing a great job, he’s a brilliant leader, or, as one letter writer said this week, he’s “a scholar and a gentleman … and an astute diplomat.” (Though it’s hard to imagine how an astute diplomat ever got into this nasty bind.)
Then there are those who say that peace and quiet are more important than anything else and that, regardless of Mr. Fletcher’s skills or lack thereof, everyone should just sit down, shut up and let things blow over.
And on the other side are those who say Mr. Fletcher is such a destructive, divisive force that his continued presence will do more damage than even a nasty Armageddon-ish battle to get rid of him.
Well, if not Armageddon (or even Armageddon-ish) that battle is coming very soon in the form of a special meeting of the Music Festival corporation.
The corporation – roughly 150 people, including the 50 members of the board of directors, about 80 faculty members, a dozen or so Festival life trustees and a number of community members – is the ultimate authority. The corporation, legally speaking, owns the Festival.
That meeting has been called to consider a “vote of no-confidence” in Alan Fletcher.
Although that vote would have no legal force, many believe that if it passes, it will leave Mr. Fletcher badly wounded. A lame duck at best. A dead duck perhaps.
Many who do not support Mr. Fletcher consider it a major accomplishment that this meeting has even been called.
To call a special meeting, 10 percent of the members of the corporation have to sign an official letter requesting that meeting. That’s 15 signatures, and there was considerable question whether that many people would publicly place themselves in opposition to Mr. Fletcher.
The problem, they said, is that Alan Fletcher’s management style has left faculty members in constant fear of losing their jobs.
“What does it say about an organization when everyone is scared to say anything critical about the CEO for fear of getting fired?” one Festival board member asked me.
Another board member said that Mr. Fletcher has been fighting to have the meeting of the corporation canceled, arguing that there were technical flaws in the letter asking for the meeting.
“Alan doesn’t seem to think he has much support,” said the board member. “Or else he wouldn’t be so afraid of the vote, would he?”
At the same time, I have been told, “senior staff members” of the Festival are contacting faculty members and urging them not to vote against Mr. Fletcher. The vote at the meeting will be by secret ballot, but still, if that kind of arm-twisting is going on, it seems wildly inappropriate.
Let me be very clear. I don’t know any of the people involved. I don’t know Alan Fletcher. I don’t know David Zinman. I don’t know any Music Festival faculty members.
But people I do know and people I have corresponded with who have impressed me with their honest concern, have agreed that (as one put it), “Alan Fletcher was a mistake from Day One. He may be a good composer and a very intelligent man, but he just doesn’t have the management skill to run the Music Festival.”
Or, as someone who has been involved with the Festival for decades wrote to me, “The board and Mr. Fletcher seem to have forgotten something. Nobody cares about them. Students don’t come to a music festival because of their admiration for the board of directors. Faculty don’t come to Aspen to work for Alan Fletcher. … The Music Festival is now broken.”
And that gets us back to what we really need to care about. The Music Festival.
One of the board members I spoke to this week, one who definitely does not support Alan Fletcher, told me he firmly believes that the Festival will survive – that it will, in fact, be better off – if Alan Fletcher leaves before the start of this summer’s season.
Everything is already settled for this summer, he said. The students and faculty are coming. The concerts are scheduled. Replacing David Zinman at the podium for his five concerts will not be too difficult (though, he noted, it would be sad). The Festival has operated without a CEO in the past. And Fletcher certainly cannot hire Zinman’s replacement.
“We’ll weather this storm,” he said, “and we’ll be back on track. We may lose some contributors, but we’ll gain others. And in the end, we’ll be stronger. We’ll be better off.”
I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
The meeting of the corporation is scheduled for April 29 in the lobby of Harris Hall.
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