Nothing will ever top the beautifully grotesque spectacle of the Fyre Festival, with its FEMA tents and its tragic cheese sandwiches. And it’s simply not possible to manufacture a fiasco that terrible in the world of classical music, where people are not willing to go camping to hear some music. But if it’s possible for classical music to have its own Fyre Festival, then the Newport Contemporary Music Series is it.
The Newport Series, which took place and immediately went into shambles this past summer, was, like the Fyre Festival, the brainchild of a young hustler who most emphatically did not put in the time or the money to pull his vision off. In this case, the man behind the festival was Paul Van Anglen, a 25-year-old composer who had a grand vision to bring minimalist legend Philip Glass and film composers André Previn and Howard Shore to Rhode Island. As the Boston Globe reports, he failed spectacularly.
Van Anglen’s big problem was paying the musicians he hired; the Globe estimates that he’s left $120,000 in orchestra musicians’ fees unpaid. Van Anglen, who lives with his mother in Rhode Island and who is advertising his work as a composer-for-hire online, tells the newspaper, “[I]t is nothing less than extremely depressing to have to wake up in the morning every day knowing that the series had the outcome that it had. I am doing everything I can to try and right the ship.”
Van Anglen booked Philip Glass for a weekend of performances and talks. But he missed his first payment and then, when he couldn’t book a decent concert hall, planned to hold the concert in a local high school auditorium. Then he missed his second payment, and he didn’t show up for a meeting on the site with the producer’s team. Glass’ producer cancelled Glass’ appearance, and she says that Van Anglen has not paid a cancellation fee and that she’s personally out $15,000 based on the work she did to set it up.
Van Anglen also attempted to conduct a program of music from Previn and Aaron Copeland, but apparently he’s not very good at conducting, either. The Globe claims that musicians arrived that night to find the stage “in disarray, missing chairs and music stands.” As for his conducting work, one violinist says, “He would get lost in very simple things. His beat was really swimming, really unsteady. We had to ignore him, essentially.” A cellist says, “He couldn’t count to four sometimes. It was the most inept conducting I’ve probably ever seen, and that’s counting grad students.” Van Anglen says he was distracted by the strain of running the festival.
But the real problem was Van Anglen’s inability to pay the musicians he hired. Van Anglen’s concertmaster, the person who recruited and managed the musicians, says that Van Anglen bounced a $47,000 check to him. And he had to let a bunch of musicians go, after assuring them that he’d be able to pay them, when he later said that he couldn’t afford their fees. In an email to musicians, Van Anglen wrote, “I personally feel that I have completely failed in what I was promising to the community, what I was promising to you as musicians, and what I was promising the visiting artists and composers. I don’t think I could possibly be more ashamed.” He blames an unnamed sponsor who pulled out at the last minute.
There’s a lot more to this crazy story, and you can read the Globe’s full account here.