The Rite of Summer Music Festival on Governors Island was founded in 2011 by pianists Pam Goldberg & Blair McMillen.
Rite of Summer features free outdoor concerts of classical and cutting-edge contemporary music, performed by many of New York’s best-known soloists and ensembles. These musicians, all of whom perform on some of the world’s most prestigious concert stages, are excited about reaching a younger and more eclectic audience base on Governors Island. The festival’s “concert hall” is Nolan Park – a huge shaded grassy field where listeners are encouraged to sprawl out on blankets, picnic, and take in the great outdoors. Audiences of all ages are captivated by the series, the setting, the music, and the full Governors Island experience.
The idea for the Rite of Summer Music Festival was conceived one morning at a breakfast meeting. Pam Goldberg sat in with a friend to talk with Leslie Koch, President of the Governors Island Trust, about the possibility of a music festival on the Island. Leslie discussed her long-term vision for the Island, and Pam relayed some of her experiences with “Classical Cafe,” a concert series she ran for several years at Makor, an Upper West Side branch of the 92nd Street Y. Classical Cafe had been a resounding success, and had brought classical and contemporary music into a very informal and relaxed club-like setting.
The question then was raised: why not bring something similar to Governors Island, on a larger scale and create an exciting new venue for outdoor summer concerts in the Big Apple? Pam turned to her longtime friend and colleague, Blair McMillen, to help organize and co-direct the festival. In July 2011, Rite of Summer began with a blast: a 40-musician Independence Day blowout of Terry Riley’s “In C.” Critics and audiences immediately raved about this new addition to New York City’s summer cultural calendar. Since then Rite of Summer has presented, among others: the Bang on a Can All-Stars, JACK Quartet, Dawn of Midi, Ljova and the Kontraband, Todd Reynolds, Grand Band, and the NY Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program. “For the last four years, Rite of Summer has brought performances to thousands of New Yorkers on Governors Island,” said Leslie Koch, President of the Trust for Governors Island. “We are delighted that the series has introduced so many Island visitors to alt-classical music and has become a highlight of the Island’s public season.”