Contemporary festival collapses, 100 musicians unpaid

Contemporary festival collapses, 100 musicians unpaid


norman lebrecht

September 14, 2017

The Newport Contemporary Music Festival, which was meant to feature Philip Glass, Andre Previn and Howard Shore this summer, fell apart in mid-movement and has left an army of furious musicians.

The festival was the brainchild of a 25 year-old impresario, Paul Van Anglen. He blames the collapse on donors who failed to cough up. Musicians found the event amateurish, with insufficient chairs on stage and Van Anglen’s claims to be a conductor unproven.

More than 100 orchestral musicians have gone unpaid.

The Boston Globe has the full gruesome story here.

Van Anglen continues to describe himself on Facebook as Music Director of the Newport Contemporary Music Festival.



  • John Borstlap says:

    It’s not everybody’s work to organise a music festival. The basis of it, is water tight garantees in the form of contracts the violation of which has grave legal repercussions for the party who breaches them. I once organised a chamber music festival (not contemporary but classical music, with only one programme of 20C new music by Joanna MacGregor) and although there were quite some unforeseen hickups, the concerts went allright and payments were duly made, thanks to sound funding and good contracts – which was hell of a work to get it all right. A festival of contemporary music however is always a tricky undertaking.

  • A Musician says:

    What happened with this “festival” is unforgivable. There were ample opportunities for Van Anglen to stop this mess before it spun out of control. Instead, he continued the train wreck and left these professional musicians hanging out to dry. If one can be arrested for walking out of the drugstore for shoplifting a pack of gum, this guy should be facing criminal charges for stealing hundreds of thousands from these musicians and vendors. What’s going on Rhode Island — why hasn’t he been arrested?!?

    • Marcel Kincaid says:

      “why hasn’t he been arrested?!?”

      Because arrests are based on the law, not on your pet obviously flawed analogy. He can be sued for breech of contract, which is a civil matter, not criminal.

  • Steve says:

    Rhode Island should be known as the “Curt Shilling State” as these kinds of things can happen without fear of any consequence.
    This festival was a joke but the ultimate responsibility lies with Paul Van Anglen. I think he was totally delusional. It goes to show you how badly people want other people to succeed. But to this day Van Anglen hasn’t taken any responsibility for anything that he’s done. I hope that the musicians and everyone involved pursue him until they get every cent they were promised. The organization is a a 501c3, and you’d figure his board would be help accountable.

  • Alvaro says:

    Just another privileged white kid with delusions of grandeur. Nothing new under the sun.

    Now he’s probably well on his way to his next “hobby” on a path towards “self discovery”.

    Ahh, these millenials…

    • Stephen says:

      Plenty of millennials do amazing work. Just as plenty of baby boomers also screwed stuff up in epic ways. This isn’t a generational thing.

      However this guy is clearly just a rich kid who didn’t have the talent, knowledge, or goods to back it up, and he deserves to learn an extremely expensive lesson, including a custodial one about fraud, if he lied at any stage…

  • wle says:

    rehab, you forgot rehab, as his next job.

    or reality tv mogul.

    then president.

    • Edgar says:

      Horribile dictu! But then, the US fantasy industrial complex has been carrying the day for quite a while now, to the effect that folks mix up fantasy and reality. There will be more presidents like Trump. Shkreli, Van Anglen,…,…, these will be the names creating “news”, while the rest of us is condemned to amuse ourselves to death.

      • MWnyc says:

        The US fantasy industrial complex has been carrying the day for going on a century now.

        It’s called Hollywood, and its product is arguably one of the most successful exports any country has ever produced.

        But yeah, it has had a real affect on the collective mindset of the US. On the other hand, confusing fantasy and reality is a very human failing, found all over the globe throughout human history.

  • Graham Fiske says:

    Sad story. I feel for the young man; he obviously has big dreams and ideas but bit off WAY more than he could chew, and made some huge mistakes along the way. There is something to be said for starting off small and growing rather than trying to realize your biggest dreams all at once. If he had started with a single chamber concert with five players and made these mistakes, he’d be able to recover and learn from that with much less mess to clean up and try again with a better plan. But this $120,000+ mess will probably burn all his bridges and be the end of his career in music.

    • Fred says:

      Very well said.

    • timbits says:

      I don’t feel bad for him at all. He has delusions of his own abilities. That is not the same thing as “biting off more than you can chew.” If he had organized a performance of Beethoven’s ninth and had stumbled through it as a conductor, that is biting off more than you can chew. What he did here is . . . . something else entirely.

    • Bruce says:

      I feel for him too — up to a point. I feel for the musicians much more.

      This isn’t something that happened to him; this is something he did to other people.

  • WasThere says:

    As a musician who took part in this madness, I can tell you that this disaster was multifaceted. Every aspect of the festival from auditions to paying musicians was a complete failure. The Globe article does an astoundingly good job of describing the situation without going into every single detail (a book could be written though).

    I just want to point out that there is something of a trend out there to “dream big” and fundraise later. When this doesn’t pan out, guess who doesn’t get paid? I truly believe that Paul was on a gambling high, raising the stakes at every turn in hope of doubling his losses in the end. In this one way, I can find an ounce of empathy for him because MANY organizations do this and succeed (not that they should!). But then I think of incredible amount of time and money that was wasted for hundreds of musicians (some of which who were lucky enough to only be contracted for one concert) and that feeling fades quickly. I’m owed just about $2500… a chunk of change that will be sorely missed as I (and everyone else) could have taken other gigs instead.

    btw- think more like 250K+ mess

  • Margo says:

    Shades of Brisbane Baroque in Australia …. same outcome, with musicians and soloists unpaid.

  • MWnyc says:

    Some of you may be entertained to know that and New York magazine’s Vulture blog have written this sorry story up as ‘the Fyre Festival of classical music.”

  • Scotty says:

    The festival’s concertmaster, Harris Shilakowsky, who was also the festival’s contractor, admits that he contributed to the musicians getting screwed by failing to file a contract with the musicians union. A union contract would have offered some protection to the now-unpaid musicians. To make matters worse, $14,000 was transferred to Shilakowsky’s account, but he handed out only $6500 to the freelancers. The rest he has kept as partial payment for his own services. The remaining $7500 should go to the freelancers, since Shilakowsky hired them and, through his errors, contributed to their predicament.


    The failed Newport Contemporary Music Series should in no way be confused with the world renowned Newport Music Festival, a chamber music festival held in the Newport Mansions since 1969. Van Anglen was forced to change the original name of his festival due to trademark infringement of NMF. He not only cost NMF legal fees to protect its trademark, he never had the courtesy to personally return any communication from them. The writing was on the wall from the very beginning.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    A “Contemporary Music Festival” sounds like a financial mishap waiting to happen, no matter how well it is managed.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    It is very difficult to put on a festival, and if donors failed to honor pledges, they are to blame.