Seventh annual Vassar MODFEST will honor noted composer Steve Reich as part of a three-week celebration of new music, dance, art, film, and literature. January 22 - February 13, 2009.

Listen to a WAMC interview with Dee and Richard Wilson discussing Modfest.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY—The seventh annual MODFEST, a festival of new music, dance, art, film, and literature at Vassar College, will explore the musical world of Steve Reich, who is one of the most celebrated composers in the history of American music.  The New Yorker has called him “the most original musical thinker of our time.” The Guardian of London stated, “There’s just a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history and Steve Reich is one of them.” Programs and events, held on the Vassar campus from January 22 through February 13, will be open to the public without charge.

“Our choice to invite Steve Reich was a natural one given that, 32 years ago, Vassar hosted two concerts of his music, in which he performed; that was before he had achieved widespread recognition,” explained MODFEST co-founder and Vassar alumna Adene “Dee” Wilson ’69. “We are now delighted to welcome him back as a world celebrity.”

In addition to Steve Reich, MODFEST will celebrate works by other noted contemporary composers including Elliott Carter, Bernard Rands, Vassar professors Harold Meltzer and Richard Wilson, as well as Vassar alumnus Gabriel Lubell ’05.

The events have been devised to explore all aspects of the creative process. One such program will allow audiences to enter into the rehearsal process with the New York New Music Ensemble (whose members include Vassar faculty member and violinist Linda Quan). The workshop on Thursday, February 5, at 1:30pm, will focus on the challenges and techniques of preparing Elliott Carter’s Triple Duo for performance.

MODFEST performers will include Vassar student vocal and instrumental ensembles, dancers, poets, and filmmakers who will participate along with faculty and guest artists. This year the festival will also include high school student artists, poets, and musicians from the Poughkeepsie community. The festival highlights the Departments of Africana Studies, Art, Dance, English, Film, and Music. As MODFEST is a campus-wide celebration, events will be held at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Kenyon Hall, Main Building, James W. Palmer III Gallery, Skinner Hall of Music, and the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film. A detailed schedule of events is attached.


MODFEST programs focusing on the composer Reich will include two workshops. As Reich was influenced in his work by the music of Ghana, Vassar alumnus Joakim Lartey will lead a workshop on Ghanaian drumming. The other workshop will explore electronic music and will be led by Vassar professor Peter McCulloch. In addition, Reich will work with the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre while they rehearse two works choreographed to his music, which will be performed for the public on February 6.

Signal, a 22-piece chamber orchestra directed by Brad Lubman, will perform an early work by Reich, Music for 18 Musicians, as well as his more recent Daniel Variations. Signal was founded in 2007 when Lubman received a request to play an all-Reich concert; now they are noted for their interpretation of Reich’s music, which they have performed at the Ojai Festival (CA) and the Bang on a Can Marathon (NYC). In connection with Signal’s performance of Daniel Variations, there will be a screening and discussion of a documentary film about the journalist Daniel Pearl. Prior to the concert with Signal, Reich, who was last at Vassar in March 1977, will discuss his career and works with composer and Vassar professor Richard Wilson.

Frank Cassara, a long-time proponent of Reich’s music and instructor in percussion at Vassar, has planned a concert of Reich’s percussion works that will feature several luminaries of the percussion field, including Dominic Donato, Garry Kvistad, James Preiss, and Thad Wheeler.

“MODFEST has always been exciting to perform in and experience, with departments getting together to cherish the present movement in their respective art.  This year we’re all very excited to have Steve Reich come to campus and be part of MODFEST,” noted Vassar senior Paul Buffa, who has performed in the past three MODFESTs.  “When we heard he was coming, I think it’s fair to say a few jaws dropped.  He is a legend in contemporary music, and we’re really looking forward to seeing him here.”

Reich’s appearance at Vassar is sponsored by the Dickinson-Kayden Fund, which had also sponsored his earlier residency in 1977.


Steve Reich was born in New York and grew up there and in California.  He attended Cornell, graduating with honors in philosophy.  He did graduate work at the Juilliard School of Music and at Mills College.  Three further studies proved important to the development of his music:  he learned drumming at the University of Ghana in Accra, Balinese gamelan in Seattle and Berkeley, and the traditional forms of cantillation of the Hebrew scriptures in New York and Jerusalem.  Among the many seminal works in his catalogue are Drumming (1970-71), Music for 18 Musicians (1974-76), Tehillim (1981), Different Trains (1988), and Daniel Variations (2006).


MODFEST was the idea of Vassar alumna Adene “Dee” Wilson, member of the class of 1969, who founded it with her husband Richard Wilson in 2003 in order to foster a better coordination among the many artistic activities on the Vassar campus, placing special emphasis on contemporary arts. The programming is designed each year to showcase various departments of the college and the interrelationships between music, dance, art, film, and poetry in the 20th and 21st centuries.


All events are open to the public without charge, except for dance rehearsal on February 1.


MODFEST 1: Teen Visions, Words and Sounds.

Thursday, January 22, at 5:00pm
James W. Palmer III Gallery, Main Building

An exhibit of original artwork by students attending the Art Institute of Mill Street Loft followed by musical performances and original poetry. Features area high school students from Stringendo and Mill Street Loft’s girls empowerment programs.

MODFEST 2: Workshop on Ghanaian Drumming.

Saturday, January 24, at 2:00pm
Villard Room, Main Building

Featuring percussionist and storyteller Joakim Lartey. Born in Ghana, he graduated from Vassar in 1978 and currently lives in the Hudson Valley.  He performs widely in schools, community centers, and for businesses.  

MODFEST 3: Film with Discussion: Journalist and the Jihadi.

Wednesday, January 28, at 6:00pm
Rosenwald Film Theater, Room 109 in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film

The HBO documentary, narrated by Christiane Amanpour, tracks the parallel lives of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and British born jihadi Omar Sheikh.  Introduction and discussion led by Mia Mask, film critic and associate professor of film at Vassar College.

MODFEST 4: Lecture: Steve Reich and His Music.

Thursday, January 29, at 5:00pm
Thekla Hall, Room 400 in Skinner Hall of Music

Presented by Harold Meltzer, composer and member of the Vassar College Department of Music.

MODFEST 5: Concert: The Vassar College and Community Wind Ensemble, Vassar Mahagonny Chorus, and Vassar College Orchestra.

Friday, January 30, at 8:00pm
Martel Recital Hall, Skinner Hall of Music

James Osborn, Ashley Alter ’10, and Eduardo Navega, conductors. The Vassar Mahagonny Chorus is a student-run group of singers specializing in contemporary classical music. Works by Virgil Thomson, Arvo Pärt, Ro Ogura, and others.

MODFEST 6: Workshop on Electronic Music.

Saturday, January 31, at 10:30am and 12:30pm
Electronic Music Studio, Room 326 in Skinner Hall of Music.

The workshop will explore basic techniques of tape music, including sound editing, transformations, and free software tools. Open to all with no experience necessary. Space is limited and participants must provide their own laptops.  For reservations, please email Led by Peter McCulloch, composer and member of the Vassar College Department of Music. Two equal sessions.

MODFEST 7: Art, Music, and Poetry. 

Saturday, January 31, at 3:00pm
Villard Room, Main Building

Music recital and poetry readings by students of the Music and English Departments, with an exhibit of art and photography by students in the Art Department. Hosted Christopher Roellke, dean of the college.

MODFEST 8: Concert by Signal: Reich’s Daniel Variations and Music for Eighteen Musicians.

Saturday, January 31, at 8:00pm
Martel Recital Hall, Skinner Hall of Music

Works by Steve Reich performed by Signal, an ensemble comprising some of the most outstanding musicians based in New York, directed by Brad Lubman. Seating by ticket only; free tickets available at the College Information Center in the College Center North Atrium beginning Thursday, January 22, at 9am.  Ticket holders must be seated by 7:45pm for the performance; unoccupied seats will be released to non-ticket holders at 7:45pm at that time.  Doors will open at 7:15pm.


MODFEST*: Rehearsal: Steve Reich with Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre

Sunday, February 1, at 11:00am

Space limitations preclude opening this meeting to the public.  All are invited to see the performances on February 6, MODFEST 12.

MODFEST 9: Reich and Wilson in Conversation.

Sunday, February 1, at 2:00pm
Martel Recital Hall, Skinner Hall of Music

Steve Reich and Richard Wilson, composer and professor of music at Vassar College.

MODFEST 10: Concert of Percussion Music by Steve Reich. 

Sunday, February 1, at 3:00pm
Martel Recital Hall, Skinner Hall of Music

Typing Music, Music for Pieces of Wood, Nagoya Marimbas, Violin Phase (for marimbas), Drumming Part 1.  Performed by percussionists James Preiss, Garry Kvistad, Dominic Donato, Thad Wheeler, and Vassar College faculty member Frank Cassara.

MODFEST 11: Workshop on Chamber Music.

Thursday, February 5, at 1:30pm
Martel Recital Hall, Skinner Hall of Music

Focuses on the challenges and techniques of preparing a performance of Elliott Carter’s Triple Duo.  The New York New Music Ensemble, which for over 30 years has advocated music of our time, includes Linda Quan, violinist and member of the Vassar College Department of Music.

MODFEST 12:  Dance Performance. 

Friday, February 6, at 8:00pm
Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater, Kenyon Hall

Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre, a student dance company in residence at Vassar College.  Features The Clearing, with choreography set to Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain by Katherine Wildberger, member of the Vassar College Departments of Dance and of Drama.  Also featured will be Takehiro Ueyama’s production of Shabon, set to Reich’s You Are Where Your Thoughts Are, restaged by Jill Echo, répétiteur and member of the Vassar College Department of Dance. 

MODFEST 13:  Open Rehearsal with the Mahagonny Ensemble. 

Saturday, February 7, at 11:00am
Martel Recital Hall, Skinner Hall of Music

Gabriel Lubell coaches this student-run ensemble in his new work Hogwarts Sketch Nº 3: The Headmaster’s Office. A 2005 graduate of Vassar College, Mr. Lubell now studies composition at Indiana University.

MODFEST 14: Four Films by Vassar Students.

Saturday, February 7, at 3:00pm
Rosenwald Film Theater, Room 109 in Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film

Not A Period Correct Gun (2007), directed by Hillary Lavin ’07; A Breath of Life (2007), directed by Anna Moot-Levin ’07; New Uke City (2008), directed by Clyde Folley ’08; and Black Ice (2008), directed by Katie Hickman ’08. Presented with commentary by James Steerman, playwright and professor of drama and film at Vassar College.

MODFEST 15: Concert: The Vassar College Women’s Chorus, Madrigal Singers, and Vassar Mahagonny Ensemble.

Saturday, February 7, at 8:00pm
Martel Recital Hall, Skinner Hall of Music

Christine R. Howlett, Drew Minter, and Mark Van Hare ’10, conductors.  Works by Gustave Holst, Arvo Pärt, and Gabriel Lubell ’05.

MODFEST 16: Concert: Music of Elliott Carter, Bernard Rands, Richard Wilson, and Harold Meltzer. 

Sunday, February 8, at 3:00pm
Martel Recital Hall, Skinner Hall of Music

Performed by Vassar music faculty Bridget Kibbey, harp; Mary Nessinger, mezzo soprano; James Ruff, tenor; Thomas Sauer, piano; with guest artists Moran Katz, clarinet, and Wilhemina Smith, cello.

MODFEST 17: Art, Poetry, and Music.

Friday, February 13, at 5:30pm
Lecture: Taylor Hall, Room 203; reception: The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

Lecture by Brooke Anderson, director and curator of the Contemporary Center and director of the Henry Study Center at the American Folk Art Museum.  Reception to follow with readings of original poetry written by students in response to works in the exhibit entitled Faith and Fantasy in Outsider Art: Selections from the Permanent Collection

MODFEST events 8-10 are sponsored by The Dickinson-Kayden Fund.

MODFEST showcases the Vassar College departments of Africana Studies, Art, Dance, English, Film, and Music.

People with disabilities requiring accommodations should contact the Office of Campus Activities at (845) 437-5370. Directions to the Vassar campus are available at

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Monday, December 8, 2008