Newport High School Plays Host To Superstars Of Modern Classical Music

Jul 3, 2017

Think of the world’s most famous concert venues: Carnegie Hall, the Paris Opera House, Royal Albert Hall. Well, you may be able to add another name to that list: Rogers High School Auditorium in Newport.

This summer, the Rogers stage will hold some of the biggest names in modern classical music.

Classes have wrapped up at the high school. Seniors have graduated, and on a recent day in the music room, a few students hang out and play instruments. Those sounds have given way to the sounds of a professional orchestra tackling some of the most difficult music in the modern classical repertoire.

Rogers is playing host to the inaugural season of the Newport Contemporary Music Series. The series features a 100-piece professional orchestra, and will include some superstars of current classical music.

Composers Andre Previn and Howard Shore are both set to make appearances. Previn is an internationally acclaimed conductor, who wrote a piece specifically for the orchestra.  Shore is famous for his film scores, including this composition from the Lord of the Rings.

Most of the concerts will take place on the stage at Rogers High School. Organizer Paul Van Anglen said it’s the only space on Aquidneck Island big enough to hold an orchestra.

“It’s comfortable, the seats are nice,” said Van Anglen. “You know it was one big surprise when I went in there for the first time, and so I think it’s awesome that it’s actually there and we can use it.”

The series is a labor of love for the 25-year old Portsmouth native. He’s not only organizing the programs, but conducting the orchestra as well, and pitching the series to donors. He won’t say how much the concerts are costing, but said almost all the funds were raised through private donations. And he said the acoustics are great for contemporary classical music.

“I don’t know who designed it, but it was top notch,” said Van Anglen. “Still not Symphony Hall but they’re really good.”

The high school auditorium is a perfect circle, with a large lobby and more than 1,000 seats.  During the school year, the space is mostly used by the Rogers music department. Most of the school’s ensembles rehearse in the space.

“We have our shows in here,” said Rogers music teacher, Dominic Petze. “The Drowsy Chaperone was the musical that we did this year, which was really fun. I actually got to conduct it.”

Standing at opposite ends of the auditorium Petze’s voice carries across the cavernous space. Speaking at a normal volume, Petze’s voice sound as if he’s standing next to me, despite being about 200 feet away. 

Van Anglen is hoping his orchestra will fill out this space over the next few weeks, as it plows through rarely played compositions and contemporary classics such as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, and Alban Berg’s violin concerto.

He’s also hoping to fill the hundreds of seats in the auditorium. No doubt, this music is challenging, and tickets have been slow to sell, but Van Anglen’s optimistic they’ll pick up on concert nights.

Music teacher Dominic Petze said the concerts could be a rare opportunity for his students who will be packing up as the professionals come in.

“Half of learning music is listening to music,” said Petze. “When you’re not playing you should be listening.