You can't tell the players without a scorecard at The Aspen Music Festival and School, but the scorecard just got smaller.
The Music Fest's board chair Rob LeBuhn got the heave-ho this week when a majority of the board said he had to go. His walk down the gangplank follows the unforced departure of longtime Music Director David Zinman.
The winner and still champeen on the Castle Creek Campus is CEO Alan Fletcher, a composer who took the brunt of criticism for layoffs and cutbacks actually mandated by LeBuhn and the board. Remarkably, Fletcher was actually fired by LeBuhn and the executive board--before the full board reinstated him. When Fletcher was fired, the staff was so upset that everyone cried. I know, because my wife works there in public relations, and she was crying too. When he won the latest round Monday the staff toasted him with champagne.
Had the firing stuck, Fletcher would have been the second CEO in a row fired by the Fest; the first was Don Roth. Both have had the career misfortune of following the late legend Robert Harth, who died suddenly and unexpectedly after taking charge at Carnegie Hall. Dead men can leave long shadows, especially in the arts.
Of course, at the Aspen Music Festival, it ain't over till it's over and it ain't ever over. The dead come back to life. The banished reappear. But Fletcher's victory--and the offer of a new two-year contract--has to be seen in the context of a man dissuading an organization (and a town) bent on self-immolation.
What was Fletcher's sin of sins? He spoke before concerts and that caused at least one Aspenite to say he should be sacked. He didn't always recognize Bruce Berger, a part-timer who has trouble recognizing people himself. Jon Busch ambushed him in local columns riddled with hyperbole and misinformation. Fletcher cut the budget--and his own salary by 25 percent, by the way--he cut the faculty, and he cut the season by a week, all at the behest of the board. He made these cuts in the greatest recession since the Great Depression. He was put on the barbie for simply doing what had to be done.
When Zinman resigned there was no outrage, barely a peep beyond a letter to the editor from a high school classmate. News flash: no one seemed to like "the beloved maestro" after all, and his outrage over faculty cuts he approved rang both hollow and off-key.
Fletcher does not have that problem. Many people like him. He's not a backslapper, and some of his problems in Aspen may come from a lingering homophobia aimed in his general direction. (One former corporate bigshot told me: "I don't like him because he's a faggot." True story.) Now that he's not only survived but won outright, he will (finally) have a chance to put his stamp on the Aspen Music Festival and School.
If only music can indeed express the ineffable, then the battle at the Music Fest has been effin' unbelievable. But if there is a God in heaven, then perhaps Aspen can once again be home to the music of the gods.