Summer in Newport means lots of live music, and this year, a new Classical series arrives with a splash. The Newport Contemporary Music Series begins Saturday July 1 with some big names kicking off the festivities.

Saturday’s highlight is a world premiere with living legend Andre Previn, titled “Almost an Overture.” The opening performance also includes Gershwin’s popular “Rhapsody in Blue” and Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring.”

Paul Van Anglen

WhatsUpRhodeIsland spoke with Paul Van Anglen, Composer and Festival Director, as he worked on last minute preparations. Van Anglen has spent a year and a half working on the program, which he hopes will continue annually. He’s particularly excited about Opening Night which features the Previn composition, a piece commissioned specifically for the series.

“Andre Previn is premiering a new piece with the (newly formed) Newport Contemporary Orchestra. It’s a large chamber orchestra of about 90 members, mostly from New England, but some as far away as California and Florida. These are top notch musicians performing.”

The concerts are intended to have a popular, contemporary flair. There are several additional shows planned, including a cross genre evening “From Zappa to Berg and Howard Shore.” The series finale is a concert tribute to John Williams. Guest soloists include Gloria Cheng, Harris Shilakowsky and acclaimed French violinist Solenne Piadassi. There’s also the premiere of Van Anglen’s own Schizofrenico, on Sunday July 2nd at 1PM at the St. Mathews Episcopal Church in Jamestown.

A major goal for Van Anglen is to bring Classical music to a more diverse audience. “In fact, that’s how we organized the program. I’m not a Classical music snob – I listen to Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney. There’s Bach in heavy metal and film scores are frequently based in orchestral sounds.”

Van Anglen, a Newport native who played trumpet in the Portsmouth High School marching band, is a classically trained pianist, composer and conductor. He’s also an advocate for more music education in schools. “We need to keep exposing it to younger generations,” he remarked. “Just because there is less money available for programs, doesn’t mean there’s interest. People enjoy Classical music more than ever.”

Solenne Paidassi is a guest soloist August 5th

He was first exposed to classical music as a child while visiting the renown Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was there one year that he met acclaimed composer and conductor John Williams. Fittingly, the summer series finale is a tribute to the award-winning music of Williams.

Click here for ticket information and the complete schedule of the inaugural Newport Contemporary Music Series.