"It’s hard to focus on all those things at once."
September 14, 2017 4:30 AM   Subscribe

For a first-time festival, the Newport Contemporary Music Series boasted a program that might make even Tanglewood blush: a star-studded lineup featuring appearances by Philip Glass, four-time Academy Award winner André Previn, and “Lord of the Rings” composer Howard Shore. The festival hired more than 100 professional musicians to form the Newport Contemporary Arts Orchestra, which over six weeks starting in July was to perform challenging works by some of the titans of contemporary music. The man behind it all: Paul Van Anglen, a 25-year-old impresario who managed to present just three concerts before his grand dream cratered amid charges of broken promises, rank amateurism, and an estimated $120,000 in unpaid orchestra musicians fees, plus tens of thousands more for unpaid soloists and other costs.
posted by showbiz_liz (30 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
“I don’t usually have the Philip Glass Ensemble performing in a high school auditorium, so I was concerned"
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:32 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]

A rock festival for contemporary art music. What could go wrong?

Musicians need to get paid.
posted by spitbull at 4:37 AM on September 14

I'm sorry to say I cracked up at "It was the most inept conducting I’ve probably ever seen, and that’s counting grad students.”
A victim of the popular delusion that conducting just means waving the little stick around as you please and letting the instrumentalists do the work, maybe... .

It's a shame he did not try to enlist actual amateur musicians, people who play instruments for fun and would not have claimed union fees, to start with. Definitely not putting down the professional musicians, who took part in good faith and got screwed over but good; just imagining a slightly more realistic way of getting something like this going. Delusions of grandeur and then some.
posted by huimangm at 4:50 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]

Maybe he can work on his next venture with Ja Rule.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:52 AM on September 14 [7 favorites]

all of these stories (failed food festivals, music festivals etc), when they are not aimed at ripping people off, presumably come from internet hubris of "how hard can it be to organize a world class event?, I saw this kid do it on youtube, breakdown the barriers to participation, here i come, screw you old guard!"

as nauseating as it is to say this

this is why events of this class are held at lincoln center (hundreds of staff!) and sponsored by koch brothers and american airlines
posted by lalochezia at 5:31 AM on September 14 [18 favorites]

I *am* playing all the right notes, sunshine. Just not necessarily in the right order.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:46 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]

Exactly so lalochezia.

I'd love to see some kind of online guide to organizing your own festival or event, because it IS completely possible! Some friends of mine organized a local music festival that drew hundreds of people, and all the musicians and guests and vendors loved it. The organizers were just regular people in their early 20s with no direct experience who had an idea and made it happen. (But it was WORK. They did it for four or five years and then gave it up because it ate up so much time.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:52 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]

Several orchestra musicians began reaching out to the Boston union for help. They discovered that although they believed they were signing a union musician’s contract — the contracts mentioned union requirements and promised payments to a union pension fund — Newport was not a union gig.

It's been ages since I've done any kind of union gig, but I can't comprehend how this can happen. Maybe I just never did a gig where they wanted me to think it was union, but it wasn't?
posted by barkingpumpkin at 6:12 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

This is the equivalent of "oh I can make a mean grilled cheese sandwich, time to open a 500-seat restaurant in Manhattan!" As in, why did anyone go along with this? Running a large festival requires an auditable track record. Start small, build from there.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:15 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]

all of these stories (failed food festivals, music festivals etc), when they are not aimed at ripping people off, presumably come from internet hubris of "how hard can it be to organize a world class event?, I saw this kid do it on youtube, breakdown the barriers to participation, here i come, screw you old guard!"

I think the heart of most of them is about "ripping people off," not strictly financially but emotionally and socially. It is not so much motivated by "wow, this will be easy!" but rather, "Wow, this will be easy FOR ME because I am uniquely capable of pulling off this feat and when I do it, I will be showered with accolades." They have a strong vision of the result - whether that be hanging out with famous people they feel they should be a peer with, or maybe they want to be a gatekeeper for access to these people so that they can extract social concessions from their friends, etc.

People wonder, "Why would someone go through all that work and effort for a scam? It cost them all this money and time, what did they get out of it?" because they don't understand that it's kind of a social scam, not a financial one.
posted by muddgirl at 6:15 AM on September 14 [13 favorites]

I meant to say "they have a strong vision of the result... that overpowers any sense of reality."
posted by muddgirl at 6:17 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]

It reminded me of organizing a science fiction convention. I have seen a number of people fall into that guy's situation, albeit in a much less visible subculture. Grandiosity is a dangerous drug, but you need at least a little bit of it or you can't get people to come to your event.
posted by elizilla at 6:21 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]

I think there's another layer here that goes beyond Fyre Festival or organizing an event or con that failed. Not only was Van Anglen organizing the festival, he was going to be conducting as well. It's like putting Fyre Fest on so everyone could see Billy McFarland rap, or someone starting a film fest so they could screen their own film and lead every Q&A.

I'm not sure that this event was as much a money-making scam as it was an attempt by Van Anglen to show the world that he belongs in the upper echelon of classical music. Can someone with a better ear than me tell if this is any good or not?
posted by thecjm at 6:36 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]

Can someone with a better ear than me tell if this is any good or not?

It sounds like a middling student composition, played without any real musicianship.

The more I read about this, the clearer it is that this guy has delusions of grandeur and a very strong aversion to taking responsibility for his actions. It wasn't the donors not coming through at the last minute that caused the festival to "implode." It was outright deceit on his part, from the fraudulent union contracts to the bounced checks to him not even showing up for the venue walk-through with Glass's people.

He's a con man whose young white rich affluent maleness blinded the white rich affluent classical music establishment to the many, many red flags that should have prevented this event from ever getting past the "what if" stage.

Also the whole classical music machine is hurting hard these days, so they are likely more susceptible to this sort of tomfoolery than they were previously because, well, they gotta eat.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:54 AM on September 14 [12 favorites]

"Wow, this will be easy FOR ME because I am uniquely capable of pulling off this feat and when I do it, I will be showered with accolades."

“Let’s just do it and be legends, man.”
posted by grouse at 7:07 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]

I am so so so glad that my dumb idea of starting of a music festival evaporated before I had the means to begin.
posted by Theta States at 7:18 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

I played at Nerdapalooza 2013, which moved from two smallish music venues the previous year to, I kid you not, the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. That year they hired They Might Be Giants as headliners. Needless to say the organizers were completely unable to cover the cost of the space since they weren't able to up attendance by 1000% year-over-year. As a result, a bunch of people didn't get paid. The worst part was that the organizer then went on social media and blamed the performers for not attracting enough attendees. Obviously, fuck that guy.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:24 AM on September 14 [6 favorites]

> Maybe I just never did a gig where they wanted me to think it was union, but it wasn't?

... I'd say pretty much this setup is something you'd only do if you were intending all along to screw over the musicians. If you actually believed you'd pull it off you'd get all your union paperwork in order. I'm in that union and play union gigs and I've never thought twice about the legitimacy of a gig -- if they ask if you're a member, quote scale and tell you the pay includes pension deduction? It's a union gig as far as you're concerned.

I have to say, and I should probably not say much since many of the people affected and quoted in the article are friends and colleagues of mine, that I think the Globe is looking past the role of the contractor in all of this more than I'm comfortable. It's the contractor that "forgot" to file mandatory union paperwork, and who (at least according to the article) has pocketed at least half of the payment funds to cover his own work while distributing the remaining half among ~100 people. The organizer/promoter/conductor is obviously at fault here but the way the contractor has handled this is super-duper not okay. I'm not convinced he's a victim here.
posted by range at 7:35 AM on September 14 [9 favorites]

I'm now curious - was this a scam from the beginning, or is this a rich new england kid who went to music school abroad in france and has never heard "no" and always been told by mommy and his private teachers that he's the most talented boy who got over his head? And by over his head I mean perpetrated pre-meditated fraud (the fake union dues thing does not look good for this being something that "just fell apart") on hundreds of people.

Do we have any evidence that Van Anglen got any money from this? Were tickets pre-sold? Any successful fundraising done? Clearly he ripped off a lot of musicians by not paying them, but I'm not clear if any performances actually happened or these were just paid rehearsals.

If this is a grift, it's a shitty one as far as I can tell. It's more about privilege run amok than him sneaking off the night before the show with a suitcase full of cash.
posted by thecjm at 8:09 AM on September 14

thecjm - it seems like a shitty grift because it's a people-scam, not a money-scam. I don't think that Van Anglen ever seriously considered whether or not he could put on an international-caliber concert series, because that would take the ability to self-reflect.

The people that Van Anglen is really conning is whoever has been trying to help him recover from the fatal mistakes of, like, not being able to book a concert hall. These people are undoubtedly the ones giving him money to pay the concertmaster, likely in a false belief that by doing so they were saving the concert since the "big donor" fell through.
posted by muddgirl at 8:55 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

Van Anglen said he took no money for his work on the festival and sold about 330 tickets for the three concerts he staged

My educated guess - I've seen this happen a dozen times - is that Van Anglen was assuming/hoping that ticket sales would make up any shortfall from donors, or at least provide some cash flow to keep going until he found new sponsors. When that didn't happen the whole thing just snowballed.

And I agree with muddgirl - at its core this is about Van Anglen's ego, his desire to be viewed as some amazing wunderkind, not so much about actually pocketing cash.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:17 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]

Exactly -- to me, this smells much more like possibly-intentional labor/workforce grift in order to support, at best, wishful thinking and at worst a privilege-fueled ego trip. There are lots of musical organizations that can't pay their musicians until they collect the gate for that concert -- it's the nonprofit equivalent of living paycheck to paycheck and it's not great but happens all the time. Those organizations sometimes fall through and sometimes stiff the musicians in the process but most of them survive that way knowing they have people on their board who will step in and donate to cover the gap if the gate doesn't cover venue + labor.
posted by range at 9:27 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]

I work as assistant director for a festival of contemporary music and I can tell you it's far, far more unglamourous work coming up with the money than this guy ever considered.

I'm 100% not surprised that some young compbroser wanted to play musical genius/artistic visionary at everyone else's expense. I'm certain he really thought it would all just magically fall into place for him.

I'm only surprised the Glass people agreed to this project in the first place.
posted by daisystomper at 10:35 AM on September 14 [6 favorites]

Also a festival of "contemporary music" that purported to feature Appalachian Spring and music from Lord of the Rings would have instantly set off alarm bells for me, as the brainchild of someone who had no idea what "contemporary music" is.
posted by daisystomper at 10:37 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]

Years and years ago I went to a free poetry festival. The lineup was full of stars. I assumed that some big organization was footing the bill. The young poet who was the organizer certainly couldn't be footing the bill. He wasn't. No one was. Somehow, in all stages of organizing this event, he had never been asked who'd be footing the bill. Which I can sort of understand because who in their right mind would put on a festival without securing funds? Being a young white guy can sometimes be like living in a parallel world where actions have no consequences. Until they do.
posted by Kattullus at 11:29 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]

Some good comments in the article. Like, what's with Rhode Island?
posted by Melismata at 2:31 PM on September 14

Van Anglen said he took no money for his work on the festival and sold about 330 tickets for the three concerts he staged

This is the part that I don't get at all. 330 tickets between three concerts, at this mega-festival that was supposed to feature the Phillip Glass Ensemble and a newly-commissioned Previn work? I feel like 330 tickets is what you would sell to that if you literally told no one about it. If he had done any publicity at all, even just posted the event details on Facebook once, he should have sold much, much more.
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:56 PM on September 14

Guys, if I were to Marty Stu myself into an unreasonable concert situation in Newport, RI involving famous people that also starred myself, here's how it would go down.

For one, the goddamn Breakers mansion is cheaper to rent than Rogers High's caffetorium, which is why the Newport Rogers, Middletown and Portsmouth Highs all have their prom there, unless Rosecliff undercuts them, which they're not supposed to do, as it's all one preservation society, haha!

Instead of the Phillip Glass ensemble, I would invite Robin Zander and his band to perform "Surrender" - and then Deborah Harry and her band to perform "Call Me" immediately after.

I, being a massive egotist, would then perform "My name is Mock", only in my high, sweet countertenor with such wicked inflection, think an evil Aaron Neville, the anti-Lou Reed.

Then I would be blasted off the stage I mean the lawn of the Breakers, as Debby and Rob sing again the pure and perfect "Send Love Through" duet.

Uncle Mikey lives.

There. I saved you about a quarter mil. Plus I got to sing a Lou Reed song on stage to open for Cheap Trick and Blondie, and the furries are buying merch like you wouldn't believe.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:08 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]

Anyway this is the first I'd heard that the original Saturday Night Live band leader also scored The Lord of the Rings.
posted by ckape at 8:49 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]



My son (NOT a compbroser) had to/has to put up with so many of these in his years of playing in orchestras and being a music (and comp sci) major. They infuriate him and now I have a name to give him the next time he calls to complain about "that guy in my music comp class who thinks a 4 in AP Music Theory means he doesn't have anything else to learn."
posted by cooker girl at 9:36 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]

« Older Mourning for the night before   |   Rocket is fine? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments