With winter settling in, it’s time for a look back on the two summer weeks of isa, which took place in August for the 29th time.

“Just Play!?” was this year’s theme at isa – the International Summer Academy of the mdw, a theme that proved to hold loads of potential for creativity and critical reflection that proceeded to unfold across isa’s various formats. It all began on 12 August at Schloss Reichenau with the playfully unrestrained opening celebration “Welcome to isa19”, as part of which an interactive contribution by Thomas Toppler encouraged all those present to join in—which they did, with no one remaining seated. A further highlight of that evening was a presentation of the film Let’s Play from Film Academy Vienna. In this short film, director Henning Backhaus exposed power relations in the music business with subtle humour, to which the audience response was no less enthusiastic.

© Stephan Polzer

Spectacular Kick-Off

The isaFestival had already celebrated its official start on 11 August with a matinee concert at Schloss Rothschild in the presence of distinguished guests. Following words of greeting by Reichenau an der Rax Mayor Johann Döller, isa Artistic Director Johannes Meissl, and mdw Rector Ulrike Sych, Lower Austrian Provincial Governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner declared the 29th International Summer Academy officially opened. It was Mikl-Leitner’s first isaFestival visit, at which she obtained an up-close-and-personal impression of the various performances’ artistic quality. These performances were a spectacular way to kick off two weeks of master classes and events during which nearly 230 participants from over 40 countries enjoyed numerous opportunities to perform in public concerts. Their tutors and stage partners were well-known personalities from the classical music scene such as violist Tatjana Masurenko, violinists Christian Altenburger and Ulf Wallin, cellist Jérôme Pernoo, flutists Maria Fedotova and Felix Renggli, the pianists Boris Berman, Markus Schirmer, and Gottlieb Wallisch, and the tenor Rainer Trost, as well as the piano duo Silver-Garburg and the Artis Quartet. And an exceptionally well-received evening was presented by the multi-talented violinist and entertainer Aleksey Igudesman, who joined isa students in an exhilarating stage show consisting of his own compositions, arrangements of folk songs and old evergreens, and both improvisatory and dance elements. What’s more, isa19’s outstanding soloists also once again performed for a good cause together with the mdw Kammerphilharmonie conducted by Vladimir Kiradjiev in a benefit concert for the charity Licht ins Dunkel at Congress Casino Baden. This concert will be broadcast by Lower Austria’s Radio Niederösterreich on 8 December at 8:04 p.m.

Regional Anchoring

© Stephan Polzer

While isa’s orientation is decidedly international, it’s also long since become strongly anchored in the Semmering-Rax Region. Course participants stay at lodgings in multiple locations between Vienna and the area near the Semmering Pass. The region’s castles, churches, palaces, and halls play host to over 40 performances—with Reichenau an der Rax alone having hosted performances by isa participants at no less than seven different venues this August. And at the centre of town, directly in front of Schloss Reichenau, stood the “Let’s merry-go-round!” chain carousel, which ran from 17 to 24 August with a musical concept developed in cooperation with the project “orf musikprotokoll im steirischen herbst”. Young and old alike were invited to take a ride on what could be seen and heard far and wide as the epicentre of this year’s isa, especially of its isaOutreach activities. It was isa’s second week that once again saw Reichenau host the isaOutreach programme, which brought together the various different segments of the local populace from children to trade apprentices and on to seniors. The participants’ music-making, painting, and dancing together culminated in a colourful public presentation at Schloss Reichenau. Over the years, isa has built increasingly close relationships with the regions’ municipalities, hotels and inns, and shops. And along the way, new performance venues have been pioneered again and again—with this year including events at the Südbahnhotel in Semmering and the Riegelhof, a country estate in Prein an der Rax, for the first time. At the latter, which was once the summer home of author Heimito von Doderer, isa presented a multidisciplinary project in collaboration with the mdw’s Max Reinhardt Seminar and Joseph Haydn Department.

All Set for the Jubilee Year of 2020

Preparations are already underway for isa’s next edition, which will be celebratory through and through—for the International Summer Academy will be celebrating its 30th birthday, a fact that speaks to the sustainability of this project that reinvents itself year after year! Taking its cue from the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, which the mdw will be celebrating and reflecting upon with a broad range of activities, isa20’s theme of “Heroes?” will place this composer’s music and the history of its interpretation and reception in focus while also moving on to address further questions: Why are “heroes” so important to audiences and to the public? Why is it that other outstanding composers aren’t viewed as equals, being instead doomed to stand in the respective shadows of said “heroes”? Were and are there “heroines”—women heroes? And if not, why not? isa20 will set out to shed light on many questions such as these, in the process making yet another contribution to the relevance of art and music in society.

Save the Date
16 to 30 August 2020
30th International Summer Academy of the mdw

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