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We Are The Mods 

“Vassar is an absolute treasure for the community,” declares Dee Wilson. When she retired from teaching seven years ago, Wilson began making that treasure more accessible. She and her husband Richard, a Vassar music professor, founded Modfest, a yearly celebration featuring art created in the 20th and 21st centuries. Modfest 2009 is the largest to date, with 18 events from January 22 to February 13. Composer Steve Reich will be in attendance for two concerts and a rehearsal with the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre. Richard Wilson will conduct a public conversation with Reich on February 1. All events are free.

Now 72 years old, Reich is increasingly recognized as a luminary of modern music. Once overshadowed by his fellow minimalist Philip Glass, Reich is being performed, danced to, and recorded around the world. Critic Kyle Gann wrote that Reich “may be considered, by general acclamation, America’s greatest living composer.”
“What has pleased me is that the students are very aware of Steve Reich. They come up timidly, saying, ‘Is it true that he’s coming?’” reports Wilson.

For the first time, the film department at Vassar will take part in Modfest. “The Daniel Variations” (2006) is a work by Reich quoting writings by Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. In honor of that composition, the documentary The Journalist and The Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl will be shown on January 28. “The Daniel Variations” itself will be performed as part of a concert by Signal, a 22-person chamber orchestra, on January 31.

Reich traveled to Ghana for five weeks in 1971 to study music with the master drummer Gideon Alerwoyie. On January 24, Modfest will offer an African drumming workshop with Ghanaian-born percussionist Joakim Lartey, who graduated Vassar in 1978 and currently resides in Newburgh. This event is co-sponsored by the Africana Studies Department, now marking its 40th anniversary.

Another American composer featured at Modfest is Elliott Carter, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday at a concert at Carnegie Hall that featured the New York premiere of a new composition. The New York New Music Ensemble will perform Carter’s “Triple Duo” at a chamber arts workshop on February 5.

Each year at Modfest, Vassar poetry students write verse in response to paintings at the Loeb Art Center. Each student performs the poem in front of the chosen artwork. This year, the show is “Faith and Fantasy in Outsider Art: Selections from the Permanent Collection.” Students will read at the show’s opening.
“Some of the students pride themselves on announcing that they’ve made it to every single show. So, to make it harder for them I have more and more events,” Wilson slyly reveals. She is present at all the performances, usually serving cider and home-baked cookies.

Modfest will take place at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie from January 22 to February 13. (845) 437-7294; www.music.vassar.edu/concerts.
click to enlarge Steve Reich
  • Steve Reich
click to enlarge The Vassar Mahogany Chorus
  • The Vassar Mahogany Chorus
click to enlarge Bridget Ann Kibbey
  • Bridget Ann Kibbey
click to enlarge The Vassar Mahagonny Chorus
  • The Vassar Mahagonny Chorus

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