The International Summer Academy of the mdw in 2020: A Look Back

253 participants from 27 countries, 39 online events, and 22 hours of live streaming from 18 to 24 August: these are the hard facts of this year’s isaDigital.

In view of the uncertain situation with COVID-19 and the associated travel restrictions, the isa team—headed by Artistic Director Johannes Meissl—reacted with an innovative concept and realised isa’s 30th edition in various digital formats. The offerings ranged from one-on-one lessons and Zoom lectures with teachers from all over the world to lecture-recitals and live-streamed concerts as well as daily yoga sessions and social gatherings in the virtual realm.

These digital events were streamed on YouTube and Facebook, via the mdwMediathek, and via Zoom. The preparatory phase, which took place within a mere three months, saw archival material reviewed and used in combination with new material to produce videos that show isa in all its facets. A new website was created, packages with master class offerings were developed, interviews were recorded, concerts were pre-produced, and more. It was a Herculean effort that only succeeded thanks to close collaboration with numerous mdw departments and divisions—and in this regard, special thanks are owed to the mdw’s AV team!

The technical and communicative core of isaDigital was the Joseph Haydn-Saal, which was set up like a professional television studio with four cameras and with the Rectorate’s meeting space functioning as a control room.

© Stephan Polzer

Apart from providing the technical wherewithal to facilitate the artistic work at hand, the biggest challenge was to allow the social aspect of isa to be experienced in the digital realm, as well: the proverbial “isa feeling” that can typically be felt throughout isa’s two intensive course and festival weeks in the Semmering-Rax Region. To this end, every evening included social activities for the participants following the official lectures, panel discussions, concerts, and lessons. The participating students played games, solved riddles, competed in quizzes, drew, and laughed together, all the while building their networks and making new friends all over the world in this new virtual setting.

For the isa team, the driving concern behind the realisation of all their digital ideas was to send out positive, hopeful signals in this time of extreme difficulty (especially for young musicians) and make it possible to find new motivation to discover new possibilities amidst the present crisis. The same was true of the distinguished panellists in the discussion “Covid vadis”, who queried just how things can go forward in the cultural and arts scene during this crisis and thereafter.

The especially creative outputs of isaDigital included a custom-developed sound logo by the Indonesian composer and mdw student Gavin Wiyanto and the accompanying digital animation by the Mexican-French artist and Film Academy student Mariana Farbre. A further important innovation was the Digital Creative Award. The search here was for an artistically done combination of superlative musical performance and digital elements. London-based cellist Sarah Gait won over the jury with her homage to this year’s jubilarian Ludwig van Beethoven. With her submitted video, she presented herself as an artist of many talents: from the sound and video to the editing, she had produced everything on her own.

The opening concert with Hyung-ki Joo, the Beethoven-themed contribution “Out Of the Box” by Georg Nussbaumer, a lecture-recital on Schubert’s G-Major String Quartet with Alfred Brendel and Simply Quartet, and a live-streamed concert with prominent isa alumni were the highlights of this year’s digital isaFestival.

The contributions by Film Academy Vienna were integrated in an effective way with a presentation of its short films for isa as well as the “Long Night of Prizewinning isaMovies” from recent years—with a filmic contribution on isaOutreach rounding out the diverse programme. All this came together to result in a successful première that impactfully conveyed the many facets of isa on screens in people’s homes.

In light of all this, the isa team is already thinking hard about how isa21 might be realised in both analogue and digital forms!

To review and experience isa after the fact: concerts and other elements of the isaDigital 2020 programme can be found at isa’s YouTube channel

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