The Rite of Summer Music Festival

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 and cutting-edge contemporary music. RoS has featured some of New York’s best-known soloists and ensembles, all of whom are excited about reaching a wider, younger, different audience base on Governors Island. Our “concert hall” is Colonels Row–a huge shaded grassy field where the audience sprawls out on blankets and takes in the music in the great outdoors. It’s a free, hipper, daytime version of Tanglewood, but in NYC’s 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 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 summer 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 were soon raving about the new festival, which went on to feature performances by ETHEL, violinists Miranda Cuckson and Nurit Pacht, JACK Quartet, Ljova and the Kontraband, and electro-violinist/composer Todd Reynolds. Audiences of all ages were captivated by the series, the setting, and the full Governors Island experience. As Time Out aptly stated in 2011, “What could be better than a ferry ride, a sunny minimalist masterpiece by Terry Riley and a round of arty miniature golf?”