In 1974, at the height of the gas crisis, Priscilla Rigg started a chamber concert series at St. Luke’s in East Greenwich so the community didn’t have to travel far to hear world-class music. By 2007, Priscilla was ready to end the beloved series.
Enter Warwick native and classical musician John Pellegrino. He had been working throughout the country as a professional musician, but dreamed of starting a chamber music festival in Rhode Island. In a serendipitous moment, John took over Music on the Hill and re-established it as a festival.
“I was meeting RI-born musicians in every orchestra I played,” John explains his impetus for the festival. “It’s such a small state, so to play in orchestras where two, three, even four of the musicians are from Rhode Island? That’s unusual.”
According to John, Rhode Island’s public school teachers deserve the credit for the number of Rhode Island musicians playing professionally. “It’s a testament to Rhode Island’s education system, our dedicated teachers, and our youth orchestras. Music on the Hill is a way to give back to the community that supported us.”
The festival program mixes classic composers like Bach and Mozart with lesser known ones. Seven concerts are presented locations throughout the state over the course of six days, including Cranston and Warwick. Each concert program is unique and played by a chamber orchestra featuring Rhode Island-born musicians alongside those who consider Rhode Island a second home.
“So many non-Rhode Island musicians want to be a part of the festival,” he says with a laugh. “They see my Facebook feed full of beautiful pictures from Rhode Island, with its beaches and delicious food, and they want to come.”
For John, who is based in Ohio and plays bass for the Columbus Symphony, Music on the Hill is a way to say thanks to the community that supported him from the halls of Toll Gate all the way to NYC’s prestigious Juilliard School.
“The Ocean State should be proud of the musicians its produced and the education system that supported the music,” he says. “That’s the untold story of Rhode Island.”