‘Fyre Fest’ Of Classical Music

Rhode Island’s Newport Contemporary Music Series was supposed to feature the biggest names in contemporary orchestral music, including Philip Glass and “Lord of the Rings” composer Howard Shore, performing over a six-week period.

Philip Glass
Luis Olazabal
– Philip Glass
New World Center, Miami Beach, Fla.

But the series, which some are comparing to the disastrous Fyre Festival, only lasted a fraction of that time.

“It is nothing less than extremely depressing waking up every morning and knowing that the series had the outcome that it had,” Paul Van Anglen, the 25-year-old impresario behind the festival, told the Boston Globe, “I am doing everything I can to right the ship.”

The series began in July and only lasted three concerts before Van Anglen called it quits.

The festival’s trouble began with the thousands of dollars Van Anglen spent on hiring more than 100 professional musicians to form the Newport Contemporary Arts Orchestra. The Globe estimates that Van Anglen has yet to pay $120,000 in orchestra fees.

He reportedly spent $75,000 alone to get Glass and his ensemble to perform for a weekend in celebration of the famed composer’s 80th birthday.

Van Anglen, who now lives with his mother in Rhode Island and advertises himself as a for-hire composer online, missed his first payment in October 2016. Things went downhill from there. Instead of holding the series in a large concert hall, Van Anglen booked a local high school auditorium. Then he missed his second payment, and failed to show at a meeting with Glass’ production company.

“He stopped communicating with me altogether,” Linda Brumbach, founder of the production company, told the paper. “It was a huge loss.”

Brumbach, who said she personally spent $15,000 to compensate her team,canceled Glass’ performance but never received a cancellation fee from Van Anglen.

As the festival drew closer, Van Anglen’s conducting capability failed to hold up to professional standards as well. One musician told the Globe that Van Anglen “would get lost in very simple things. His beat was really swimming, really unsteady. We had to ignore him essentially.” Another said, “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 blamed his performance at the podium on the stress of simultaneously having to organize the festival. He also said the festival failed because a key donor failed to deliver his promised funds. He declined to identify the donor, however.  

Concertmaster Harris Shilakowsky became worried after the festival’s first concert July 1. “After the concert, I said [to Van Anglen], you’ve got to give me a check,” Shilakowsky told the Globe. “He said he didn’t have his checkbook.”

Van Anglen eventually gave Shilakowsky $47,000 to pay the musicians, but the check didn’t clear and was either bounced or canceled, Shilakowsky said.

Tensions grew as the series continued, and on one late July rehearsal Van Anglen and Shilakowsky started screaming at each other. After the argument, Van Anglen assured Shilakowsky and the musicians they would be paid, but failed to show at the next day’s rehearsal. 

Instead, Van Anglen sent Shilakowsky a text message canceling the series. “Let the musicians go: I don’t have the money to pay them if we proceed,” the message said, which Shilakowsky read aloud to the orchestra.

Van Anglen apologized in a note to the musicians.“I can fully understand if this comes off as completely dysfunctional and a joke,” the note said. “I don’t think I could possibly be more ashamed.”

Van Anglen sold around 330 tickets for the concerts that were held.

He’s trying to raise money to pay off his debts, and hopes to reschedule the canceled shows.