In a city of sharp elbows, I’m always looking for elbow room. Coney Island mid-summer is delightfully packed with the world’s humanity of sweat, but a ten minute ferry ride from Manhattan provides by contrast an almost peaceful paradise. On Sunday, despite gorgeous weather, there was hardly a line at the Governors Island ferry terminal at the Battery Maritime Building, and the island itself was full of wide open people-free places.
Governors island has everything: dilapidated military housing, scenic views of Brooklyn/Manhattan skylines, art exhibits, yellow crowned night herons and the longest slide in NYC. In Nolan Park former officer homes are occupied by various nonprofits such as New York Virtual Volcano Observatory, Human Impacts Institute and The New York City Audubon where they loan binoculars, give bird tours and host two artists in residence.
But the main attraction for me this day was a concert by Sandbox Percussion, a chamber quartet focused on contemporary composers. The array of instruments, from vibraphone to standing bells, impressed me for the amount of labor required to set the stage. During the performance, the occasional helicopter overhead, ferry horn blowing and wind rustling through trees added an aleatory element to the music.
As beats echoed on abandoned military structures, I imagined the ghosts of former soldiers continuing to march the grounds. This struck me especially as they played Steve Reich’s fantastically complicated piece for bongos, Drumming Part 1. Another very fun piece titled Dark Full Ride by Julia Wolfe was a quartet for hi-hats that explored the range of this surprisingly complicated instrument. It reminded me of how Steve McCall would transform his minimal five piece drum kit–bass drum, floor tom, snare, cymbal and hi-hat–into polyrhythmic magic.
The show was part of the Rite of Summers music festival. There are two more concerts in the series scheduled this season: just two more reasons to visit this urban escape.