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Vassar Modfest 2017

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Thu Jan 26th, 2017

Vassar College Women's Chorus with Quartet

For the past fourteen years Vassar’s Modfest program has been run by its discriminating founders, Dee and Richard Wilson (depicted in teaser photo).  Modfest was inaugurated to present interdisciplinary arts in a flexible ambiance at a frozen time of year when not much was happening in Dutchess County. The program has over the years been a modest success that has enjoyed quirky and high-spirited acclaim.

This year the organizing torch was passed to Christine Howlett and Tom Pacio. The opening program began in Vassar Chapel with Christine Howlett conducting the Vassar Women’s Choir in a composition by Jocelyn Hagen with lyrics by Julia Klatt Singer. The lyrics on fall and winter contained suitable open vowels for chorale. The music was pleasant in mood. The second and fourth movement were the strongest, the second movement being rooted in Antonio Vivaldi’s “Winter” movement of his epic The Four Seasons. They were accompanied by a quartet featuring Marka Young and Rachel Croizier on violins, Elizabeth Handman on viola, and Sophie Shao on cello. The violins stood out.

Proceedings then migrated to the Library where a second quartet (comprised of students) played: Noah Boden on violin, Kylie Prutisto-Chang on violin, Jaylin Remensperger on viola, and Annie Hsu on cello offered the first movement of Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major. Before the august grandfather clock in the Atrium, they played with soft and dolorous passion. Moving on to Taylor Hall one had to pass by an exhibit on Edna St. Vincent Millay. Amid her early books and letters, a witty exhibitor placed a pair of varied drinking flasks. If that was a serial limitation to the arc of her life, a more serious debility, one that Millay sometimes outflanked, was the academic canard that great poetry should be written in iambic pentameter alone. Some professor must have suggested this tick-tock technique. Under the influence of Louise Labé and William Shakespeare, Millay composed hundreds of sonnets, a couple of dozen being masterpieces (although nearly all her sonnets begin with an arresting quatrain). While Vassar could not contain Millay, her character left an indelible stamp on the college.

In the Taylor Room Nicholas Ruggeri conducted the Vassar College Choir in two pieces: Salmo 150 by Ernani Aguiar and MLK by U2 in an arrangement by Bob Chilcott. Proceeding to the Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center, the choir took advantage of a hidden balcony to sing Eric Whitacre’s “Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine.” From invisible height high magic floated to the floor.

The quartet that played in the Library broke up to assay solo pieces in different exhibit rooms. This attractive and novel procedure was awkward for participants. Few attendees migrated to the far corner room where Noah Boden played a delicious violin rendition of a Bach string quartet in a small room where he discovered that the acoustics were a marvelous surprise.

There was a modest celebratory reception. The event was not high art, yet it was good quality. The event was intimate, convivial, and charming. The free-wheeling ghost of Millay still haunts Vassar College.

Modfest runs in several mediums with exciting dance, music, film, and painting for the next two weeks.