The Rite of Summer Music Festival on Governors Island was founded in 2011 by pianists Pam Goldberg & Blair McMillen. The festival features free outdoor concerts of classical music and contemporary music with a cutting-edge. The performers are some of New York’s best soloists and ensembles–they have performed at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, and Le Poisson Rouge–but they want to reach a wider audience and so they do. Our concert hall is Colonels Row–a huge field where the audience is sprawled out on blankets with picnic baskets, having a catch or watching their toddlers dance and react to the music. It’s Tanglewood but in our own backyard!
Rite of Summer was unexpectedly conceived at a breakfast meeting. Pam Goldberg decided to sit in on a friend’s meeting with Leslie Koch, President of the Governors Island Trust. Leslie discussed her long-term, wide-ranging vision for the island and Pam talked about Classical Cafe, the concert series she founded and was the Artistic Director for 5 years at Makor, an upper west side Center of the 92nd Street Y. Classical Cafe had been a resounding success in bringing classical as well as the music of today’s composers to an informal and very relaxed setting–so why not bring it to the beautiful outdoors (with Tanglewood and Aspen as models) and create a new life for music in the Big Apple! It was something that hadn’t yet happened in New York.
Pam turned to her longtime friend and pianistic colleague, Blair McMillen to co-direct the festival. In 2011, The Rite of Summer Music Festival began with a blast: a 40-musician Independence Day blowout of Terry Riley’s “In C” led by Jed Distler. Critics from the New York Times, the New Yorker, and Time Out New York were soon raving about the new festival, which went on to feature performances by Ethel, NYC Violin phenoms Miranda Cuckson and Nurit Pacht, The JACK Quartet, and Violinist Todd Reynolds. Audiences of all ages were captivated by the series, the setting, and the full Governors Island experience. As Time Out aptly put it, “What could be better than a ferry ride, a sunny minimalist masterpiece by Terry Riley and a round of arty miniature golf?”