Modfest features artistic diversity

This year marks the 17th Modfest festival, Vassar’s annual commemoration of 20th- and 21st-century art of various media. This year’s theme, “In Motion,” explores movement in performance, music and film. Courtesy of Pat Mazzera via Flickr.

While the bright colors of Marsden Hartley’s “Indian Composition” swirled behind them, the voices of the Vassar Women’s Choir lifted up to the high ceiling of the Frances Lehman Loeb Arts Center on Thursday, Jan. 31. The performance was a fitting kick-off for Modfest, as it demonstrated how the annual music festival can help bring different arts disciplines together and engage a community outside of Vassar and maybe even the art world.

They performed “Its Motion Keeps” by Pulitzer-Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw. Afterward, event organizers encouraged the audience, which was comprised largely of Vassar students and Poughkeepsie community members, to look around the Loeb. One of the exhibits on display was another Modfest endeavor entitled Flip Side, which opened last week. Flip Side shows off art created by members of the Vassar community, ranging from color-pencil drawings representing patterns of mathematical formulas to more traditional portraits and photographs.

The second Modfest visual art exhibit, featuring Inez Nathaniel Walker’s drawings, opened on Friday, Feb. 1. The collection consists of drawings completed over a twenty-year period, from the early seventies up to the artist’s death in 1990. Walker’s drawings are so colorful and richly patterned that they are hypnotic. Her work is characterized by figures whose proportionally large faces take up much of the composition and backgrounds of horror vacui patterns that transcend the limits of the page.

The Emily Hargroves Fisher ‘57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator and Assistant Director for Strategic Planning Mary-Kay Lombino delivered the exhibit’s opening lecture. Walker’s work certainly embodies what Parsons called, “Works of mysterious power, produced in the face of formidable obstacle. Work that testifies elegantly to an innate creative urge.”

Directly following the show’s opening, a screening of the film “Baby Driver” began in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film. Event organizers selected this film because it actively incorporates music into the visual medium of film.

On Saturday, Feb. 2, Modfest continued with a workshop in the Aula entitled Viewpoints: Gesture, Music and Performance. The session focused on how different arts disciplines can inform music, and ended with a vibrant chorus of Vassar students singing along with a live accompanist. It seemed to embody what Interdisciplinary Arts Coordinator for the Creative Arts Across Disciplines Initiative Tom Pacio, a Modfest organizer and lecturer, described as one of the purposes of the festival, stating: “Something that’s important to me is having a balance of programming that is accessible to our community…that can also challenge them.”

That night at 8 p.m., the annual concert in honor of Professor Emeritus Richard Wilson, one of the founders of Modfest, took place at Skinner Hall of Music. The first acts, composed and performed by soprano Susan Botti and harpist Ashley Jackson, used poetry to cross over from music into other artistic disciplines.

The event also included the world premier of Wilson’s own “String Quartet No. 6,” performed by the internationally acclaimed Attacca Quartet. Before the performance, Wilson joked that, although as composers grow older their music becomes “clearer, simpler, more transparent, [he decided to] go in exactly the opposite direction, [becoming] impenetrable, complex.” The composition certainly was multilayered, with high and low tones. Even while playing different rhythms, all four members of the quartet remained in sync with each other.

Sunday, Feb. 3 saw Modfest return to the intersection of film and music with the student “Cabaret ‘In Motion’ Pictures,” directed by songwriter Jennie Litt. Skinner Hall was transformed into an early 20th century movie theater as performers sang songs from early cinema while wearing black velvet, pearls and stiletto heels.

On Wednesday, Feb. 6 Saski Plum Globig ’19 staged an art installation in the Old Bookstore. Her project intersected the visual arts, dance, music and novels, incorporating soundscapes of different kinds and projection to represent the weather in Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”—weather that, like her show, is complex, always in motion and ambiguous.

Modfest will continue through Sunday, Feb. 10. As a staple of the festival, Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre (VRDT) will take center stage in Kenyon on Friday, Feb 8. Courtesy of Katherine Wildberger.

Modfest will continue into this next week. On Thursday, Feb. 7, the festival will once again examine the interactions of music and film with a lecture on music in silent film by Ben Model, an accompanist who has worked in silent film for 35 years. Model, who currently plays music for the MoMA and Library of Congress, will hold his lecture at 8 p.m. in Skinner Hall.

The Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre (VRDT) is scheduled to perform in the Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater on Friday, Feb. 8. Students and faculty will showcase a collection assembled by students, professors and professional choreographers at 7 p.m.

On Saturday, Feb. 9, a panel discussion on the technique of sampling music is set to take place in Skinner Hall at 4 p.m. The topic of discussion is the process of incorporating classical music into hip-hop songs. Panel members include Ensemble Mik Nawooj, a group known for this technique, as well as Assistant Professor of Music Justin Patch.

That night at 8 p.m., the Ensemble will perform at the Trolley Barn in Poughkeepsie, marking the first time a Modfest event has been held off campus and representing an initial attempt to use the arts to help bridge gaps between the school and the surrounding community.

Modfest will conclude on Sunday, Feb. 10. The last event will be Joshua Roman and the JACK string quartet performing in Skinner Hall. This event will center on the Tornado as a beautiful and powerful force. The show also marks the beginning of Skinner’s regular season of music, which features at least two concerts every weekend—usually one on Saturday at 8 p.m. and one on Sunday at 3 p.m.—and extends through May. In closing out Modfest and opening the rest of Vassar’s music semester, this event in itself encapsulates the festival’s devotion to the exploration of borders and intersections.

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