With this year’s theme of “Heroes?”, isa – the International Summer Academy of the mdw will be celebrating its 30th season

Even if isa’s 2020 focus on heroism might initially strike one as anachronistic, the fact is that the celebration and/or rejection of heroes is an immanent part of cultural systems. An ongoing search for guiding figures sees individuals from politics and various sports stylised as heroes, while the term “everyday heroes” is reserved for those working as firefighters and rescue personnel. And then there are the “superheroes”, who seem never to go extinct: Spiderman, Catwoman, Captain Marvel, and the rest continue to conquer cinematic screens and children’s bedrooms. But as Jürgen Habermas once stated, “whenever ‘heroes’ are honoured the question arises as to who needs them and why.”

The 8th edition of the international research conference isaScience will be conducting critical enquiries into “Heroes.Cults.Canons”. And in an artistic reflection of these enquiries, isa as a whole will be shedding light on this year’s theme in its masterclasses, workshops, and—of course!—concert programmes.

Beethoven – Hero? Demigod?

The musical year of 2020 is upon us with its exhaustive focus on music history’s quintessential hero: Ludwig van Beethoven, whom the 19th century placed on a pedestal and worshipped, after which he was then frequently toppled from and restored to said pedestal during the century that followed. Our own aim is to reflect on this year’s jubilarian from the most varied perspectives. At isa, Beethoven’s oeuvre is to be situated within music history’s major developmental strands and interpretive traditions. Important impulses will be provided by internationally leading experts—such as Alfred Brendel and Clive Brown in terms of performance practice, David Dolan where improvisation is concerned, and Hyung-ki Joo when it comes to humoristic and performative aspects. And Stefan Gottfried, head of the mdw’s newly formed Department of Early Music beginning in October 2020 and also artistic director of Concentus Musicus Wien, will add his own accent in the form of a Handel project entitled “Beethoven’s Hero”, thus strengthening the presence of early music at isa.

30 Years of isa: More Than One Reason to Celebrate!

With all of the above, isa20 will be making its very own contribution to a multi-layered and colourful notion of Beethoven while also dealing with concepts of representation and rebellion in and through music. isa has repeatedly dealt with socially relevant topics in its concerts and courses—with themes including “1912 – Fall and Rise” in 2012, “Times of Change” in 2014, and “Music and Democracy” in 2018. And isa’s 30 years of existence attest to its sustainability as a project that reinvents itself anew year after year and has developed continually since its founding in 1991. Which leaves only one thing left to be said: the warmest congratulations, and here’s to the next 30 years!

isa – 30th International Summer Academy of the mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna*

© Andrej Grilc

*Due to the Covid-19 crisis, a decision as to an alternative way of holding isa20 had not yet been made as of this publication’s editorial deadline. Updates on #isaDigital from 18 to 24 August 2020.

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