MODfest 2022 to Present a “Kaleidoscope” of Visual Arts
Vassar’s 20th annual MODfest promises to be a kaleidoscope of visual arts, music, and dance that reflects on the intersection of artistic performance and social justice. The festival is being coordinated by the Music Department in collaboration with the College’s Creative Arts Across Disciplines.
MODfest kicks off on January 27 with an opening reception for Women R Beautiful, a Palmer Gallery exhibition of photographs by Ruben Natal-San Miguel. Performances begin January 28 with a concert by Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble. The following day, the group will host a panel discussion on how the arts can contribute to the advancement of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity.
MODfest closes February 5 with a performance by members of the instrumental ensemble Decoda. The ensemble’s mission also focuses on using music to foster inclusion and social justice.
Associate Professor of Music and Department Chair Christine Howlett said the performance by Kaleidoscope and the panel discussion the group will host would set the perfect tone for the event. “We are thrilled to have the Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble on campus for the concert and workshop,” Howlett said. “Their mission reflects the broader conversations that are happening on campus through the Engaged Pluralism Initiative. I know their performance will be brilliant, but I’m equally excited for us to sit down and discuss the very real and difficult challenges we face as performers and educators in the 21st century.”
Kaleidoscope’s Artistic Director, Arianne Abela, said the ensemble was founded in 2019 with the intention of advocating for more diversity, both in the kinds of music that is performed and the musicians who perform it. “We decided to create this ensemble as an educational platform to help people talk about these issues,” said Abela, who serves as Director of Choral Activities at Amherst College.
“In our concerts we try to show that it’s important to showcase diversity,” she continued. “We’ll perform some Bach and Verdi that everybody knows, and then we’ll juxtapose this with lesser-known contemporary works. And in our panel discussion we’ll focus on how to create a repertoire that is diverse.”
On February 2, MODfest moves to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center (FLLAC), where mezzo-soprano and Vassar alumna Jacquelyn Matava ’09 and pianist Samuel Gaskin will perform works of Franz Schubert and several contemporary composers. Matava, winner of the 2021 American Prize for women in opera, is an Assistant Professor of Music at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. She was a member of several choral groups when she was a student here and is looking forward to returning to the campus to perform. “MODfest will be my first performance back at Vassar, so it is definitely a homecoming,” she said.
MODfest will close February 5 with a concert at Skinner Hall featuring premieres of compositions by Professor Emeritus of Music Richard Wilson, as well as the music of Susan Botti and Jonathan Chenette, Professor of Music on the George Sherman Dickinson Chair. The works will be performed by Vassar faculty members and Decoda, an instrumental ensemble whose mission is bringing classical music to new audiences. Yves Dharamraj, a member of the Vassar Music faculty and a cellist with the group, said he was looking forward to premiering the new compositions by Wilson, one of MODfest’s founders. “By performing Richard’s music, we are upholding a MODfest tradition,” Dharamraj said.
In the spirit of the “kaleidoscope” theme, Dharamraj said that in addition to playing as a group, the six members of Decoda will splinter into three groups of two to perform additional works. He will be performing with five fellow Decoda members: flutist Catherine Gregory, clarinetist Moran Katz, horn player Laura Weiner, bassist Evan Premo, and pianist Angelina Gadeliya. Dharamraj will perform a duet with Premo.
Dharamraj said he and other members of Decoda have been dedicated to using music to “open new doors and generate the discussion of new ideas.” He said one of his most memorable performances with the group happened inside New York City’s largest jail on Rikers Island. “We were getting booed and heckled, and my heart was beating a little fast as we were playing Beethoven for these guys,” Dharamraj recalled. But he said as the concert progressed, “A hush came over the crowd, and a few of the men closed their eyes as we played. When we were finished, one of the men came up to me and apologized, telling me he never knew this kind of music could be so beautiful. That’s the kind of thing Decoda does.”
Vassar Director of Creative Arts Tom Pacio said he was confident that this year’s MODfest would provide experiences for students, faculty and staff that will resonate long after the event is over. “I enjoy working on this festival every year because it allows us to reimagine how we might honor the traditions that inspired the very first MODfest, which from its inception was interdisciplinary and multifaceted; but also provides opportunity to innovate and respond to what is happening more broadly, on our campus and beyond,” Pacio said. “The goal every year is to develop a program that feels simultaneously familiar and brand new. My secret hope is that people walk away from this collection of events and exhibits with diverse and rich experiences, but also saying to themselves and each other, ‘That was so Vassar.’”