Keynote speakers

  • Esteban Buch (EHESS/France)

    On Musical Heroism

    For nearly two centuries, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was worshiped like the hero of music, a status by which was actually meant the hero of Western classical music. In recent years, though, this cultural myth – which merged his life and his music into a single entity, Beethoven hero – has been repeatedly challenged for its ideological biases, first by feminist musicology, lately by postcolonial critique. This criticism converged with a decline in the sociological significance of classical music at large, a musical genre which is still alive and well in many places of Europe and the world, but whose hegemony as the legitimate musical taste par excellence has withered. As a result, Beethoven’s historical position is more fragile than ever – and the fact that the 2020 commemoration of the 250th anniversary of his birth had to be cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic appears, for all its contingency, as an appropriate symbol of the new situation. The first part of the lecture will address this contemporary issue, and discuss its possible relationships with other artistic canons. The second part, elaborating on the case of Beethoven’s music, will present some formal and perceptual traits of the experience of musical heroism. Arguably, the compelling experience of classical “heroic” music depends on dynamic intensities, climactic endings, and an affordance for subjective identification. On the basis of theorizations of the sublime and recent studies of perception, we will present some ideas for tracing this experience in other kinds of music. Post-Wagnerian film music is an obvious case in point, i.e. John Williams’s Star Wars series, but the inquiry can also be pertinent in popular genres. Indeed, at a sociological level these last appear now as more prone than the classics to elicit aesthetic experiences of heroism.


    Esteban Buch
    ©Juliette Buch


    Esteban Buch (Buenos Aires, 1963) is a professor of music history at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. A specialist of the relationships between music and politics, he is the author of Trauermarsch. L’Orchestre de Paris dans l’Argentine de la dictature (Seuil, 2016), Le cas Schönberg. Naissance de l’avant-garde musicale (Gallimard, 2006), and Beethoven’s Ninth. A Political History (The University of Chicago Press, 2003), among other books. He is also the coeditor of Composing for the State: Music in Twentieth Century Dictatorships (Routledge, 2016) and Finding Democracy in Music (Routledge, 2021).

    Personal website:

  • Milena Dragićević Šešić (University of Arts Belgrade/Serbia)

    National Mythomoteurs: Do Cultural Policies and Contemporary Art Practices Challenge the Creation of National Cults and Canons?


    The Heritage inevitably reflects the governing assumptions
    of its time and context…by the power and authority
    of those who have colonized the past, whose versions of
    history matter… This is therefore an appropriate moment
    to ask then, who is the Heritage for?

    Stuart Hall, Whose Heritage?


    During XIX century, numerous Balkan countries have raised their “national question”, and together with armed rebellions, developed the whole program of national cultural identification, based on four identity pillars: language, folklore, antique Greek culture (thus neglecting their own Byzantine cultural heritage), and Humanism & Renaissance. The last two pillars were due to a fact that most of the intellectuals had been educated in Germany and Austria, and wanted to transmit those educational systems (Assmann, A. 1995) to recently liberated Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece. Folklore had kept numerous national myths – for Serbs, Montenegrins and even Croats (as testified in Meštrović’s autobiographic writings), the Kosovo myth (built around the battle of 1389) was the essential base of the cultural value system, and when intellectuals gathered in Vienna in 1850, there were no objections to the agreement on common Serbo-Croat language. The Kosovo myth was further developed in a XIX century literature. At the same time, numerous cultural practices started to be organized around it (celebrations, renaming, monument building, etc.). In Macedonia, there were no such “grand myths”, thus the Macedonian Slavic national identity was always on crossroad in-between Bulgarian and Serbian identities. It was only that the creation of the Socialist Federal Yugoslavia offered possibility for the creation of a specific Macedonian identity, based on codification of a specific Macedonian language.

    When Yugoslavia split apart, newly created Balkan nation states, developed fears during the transition process that nearly hundred years of common state, that developed its own myths, had contributed to the loss of national identities. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, that acknowledged only three nations (Serbs, Croats and Slovenes), kept Kosovo/Vidovdan myth and common language as the base of its identity, while socialist Yugoslavia, recognising Montenegrian and Macedonian nations, created its own myths that were supposed to ideologically connect diverse South-Slavic nations and other minorities. Those myths and celebrations were built around two key mythomoteurs – anti-fascism and “brotherhood and unity”. Thus, nationally specific myths, or heroes, have been put in the second plan, while national canons prioritised those historical figures that could be relevant on the whole territory. That was the reason why, at the beginning of the process of the transition, the first “victims” were socialist monuments to anti-fascism and memory sites of killing fields or concentration camps.

    Thus, in 1990s Balkan construction and re-construction of identities had started. It was not only the conflict in-between previous imaginary community versus newly created national communities (Yugoslavian identity vs. Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, etc. identity), it was more conflict of new top-down policies that included different poetics and politics of representation with numerous strategies and tactics: victimization, denials, national megalomania and mythomania, xenophobia … Previously neglected heritage was re-constructed, and re-imagined with new narratives, while heritage celebrated during socialism became silenced, dissonant heritage and was sent to oblivion. Thus, new policies of memory and policies of oblivion had been created within ethnic based cultural policies that incorporated also territorially based visions, often completely outside of the realities of present-day European politics (that would not allow creation of any “great” nation state any more).

    Therefore, national cultural memory depends from contemporary political and “strategic” governmental and societal needs, vision and aspiration of country leaders. Besides school history curricula, monuments and art works are cultural tools that are crucial in constructing collective, national memory. Throughout the region new manuals are offering different interpretations of historical facts, while public spaces are getting more and more monuments, symbol bearers of “desirable past”. Only in Skopje, within project Skopje 2014, eighty monuments have been erected, not yet becoming the locus of national memory, but with a task to give direction how far in the past roots of national identity have to be looked for. In Belgrade, monument to Stefan Nemanja (13th century ruler), with its size dominates the new city centre. On the other side, several monuments and counter monuments in Sarajevo are witnessing contradictory demands of its citizens and politicians.

    Contemporary cultural realm is being challenged all over the world. In ‘post-truth’ societies, where the emotion of the ‘masses’ once again became the engine of political thought, cultural policies find themselves at crossroads, influenced with new populist policies, based on emotions or inflammatory rhetoric. Policy makers and cultural operators started to provide projects for a public realm that requires the enthusiasm of “the people” (projects such as Skopje 2014 to countless monuments seen as “national investments” as representations of myths of national greatness in the past).

    Research questions:

    • National cultural policies in re-creation of new myths and canons? What is the impact of illiberal political system and populist political communication?
    • What are responses by different cultural policy agencies (public institutions, artists’ associations, artists’ collectives, artists and citizens)?
    • How urban cultural policies respond to new demands of creative city logic vs. national myths representation?

    Monument policy is in the heart of present national memory politics, creating places, influencing ways of mourning, and celebrating heroes and victims. Cannons of memory are created based on intentions of socio-political elites. A socially constructed remembrance, but also silence, emptiness, memory taboos, reveal more than they can hide. This dynamic of the constantly changed politics of memory and oblivion represents unstable and inconsistent culture of memory of Balkan countries. The research will discuss poetics of nationalism (from kitsch to nostalgia) as developed in monument policies, using different strategies (allegorical discourse, personifications, historicism, epical approach, spectacularisation, representation of national symbols & costumes, symbols – flag, anthem, heraldry, emblem), showing its understanding of the “people”/folk, and national identity.

    Selected references

    • Anheier, H. K. & Raj Isar, Y. (eds) (2007) Cultures and Globalization: Conflicts and Tensions (The Cultures and Globalization Series) 1st Edition, London: Sage
    • Appadurai, A. (2006) The Fear of Small Numbers – An Essay on the Geography of Anger, Duke University Press
    • Assmann, A. (1993) Arbeit am Nationalen Gedächtnis. Eine kurze Geschichte der deutschen Bildungsidee, Frankfurt: Campus /Assmann, A. (1995) Construction de la mémoire nationale – une brève histoire de l’idée allemande de Bildung, Paris: Maison de Sciences de l`Homme
    • Dragićević Šešić, M. (2010) Cultural Policy, nationalism and European Integrations, in: Simu, M. & Tojić, K. (eds) To be from/out, Kulturklamer, Beograd, 2010, str. 254-273, ISBN 978-86-912137-1-8
    • Dragićević Šešić, M. Mediating the past: monument policies & practices of dissent, in: Media archaeology: memory, media and culture in the digital age, Daković, N., Nikolić, M. and Rogač Mijatović, Lj. (2016), Belgrade: Faculty of Dramatic Arts. p. 207-220.
    • Dragićević Šešić, M. (2016) Counter-monument: Artivism Against Official Memory Practices, Kultura / Culture br. 13, Skopje: MI-AN Publishing, p. 7-19.
    • Dragićević Šešić, M. (2011) Cultural policies, identities and monument building in Southeastern Europe, in: Milohnić, A. & Švob-Đokić, N. (eds) Cultural Identity Politics in the (Post) Transitional societies, Zagreb: IMO, 2011, str. 31-46, ISBN 978-953-6096-56-5
    • Dragićević Šešić, M. (2012) Memory policies and monument building in Southeastern Europe, in: Dražić D., Radisic S., Simu M. (eds), 2012, Memory of the city, Kulturklamer, Beograd, str. 70-95, ISBN 978-86-912137-2-5
    • Lipsky, J. J. (1981) “To fatherlands – to patriotisms. Reflections about national megalomania and Polish xenophobia”, Kultura (10:490)
    • Maalouf, A. (2014) Les identités meurtrières, Grasset
    • Makuljević, N. (2006) Umetnost i nacionalna ideja u XIX veku, Beograd: Zavod za udžbenike i nastavna sredstva
    • Meštrović, I. (1969) Uspomene na političke ljude i događaje, Zagreb: Matica Hrvatska
    • Moisi, D. (2010) The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation and Hope are Reshaping the World, Anchor
    • Popović, M. (2009) Vidovdan i časni krst, Beograd: Biblioteka XX vek
    • Vickery J. & Manus M. (2016) The Art of the Multitude. Jochen Gerz – Participation and the European Experience, Campus Verlag Frankfurt, ISBN: 9783593505640


    Milena Dragićević Šešić
    ©Nebojša Babić – Orange Studio

    Dr. Milena Dragićević Šešić, prof. emerita, former President of University of Arts, Belgrade, Founder of UNESCO Chair in Interculturalism, Art Management and Mediation, professor of Cultural  Policy & Management, Cultural studies, Media studies. Diplomas: D.E.A. Paris-VIII 1977, Mag. University of Arts Belgrade (1981), and Ph.D. in literature and communication University of Belgrade (1990).
    Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques (French Ministry of Education) 2002.  ENCATC Fellowship Laureate 2019. University of Arts Laureate in 2004 & 2019.

    Guest Lecturer at numerous world universities. Published 20 books and more than 200 essays: Vers les nouvelles politiques culturelles; Art management in turbulent times: adaptable quality management; Intercultural mediation in the Balkans (both with S. Dragojevic); Art and Culture of Dissent; Culture: management, animation, marketing (with B. Stojkovic); Neofolk culture; Art and alternative… Translated in 17 languages.
    Expert for UNESCO, European Cultural Foundation, Council of Europe. Realized 50 projects in cultural policy and management (Europe, India, Cambodia, Arab countries, Central Asia).

    Personal website:

  • Denise Gill (Stanford/USA)

    Genealogy-Making: Towards Practices of Repair in Music Research

    Canons beget genealogies, vital lines of descent and processes of establishing pedigree. In turn, genealogies have the capacity to maintain, reorder, and rupture forms of canonization. While music-makers and listeners naturalize or redraw genealogies in disparate ways, diverse habits of creating or reifying genealogy also emerge in all aspects of our academic and artistic research. And just as the canonization of particular musics reifies settler-colonialism, often we may find that our very approaches in music studies can actively participate in empire-making. What kinds of listening modalities and intellectual responsibilities arise in the project of deimperializing music research? This keynote listens to two encounters with method in order to examine what strategies of repair can bring to genealogy-making. Drawing on ethnographic and archival research in major urban centers in western Turkey, I first attend to genealogies of musicians within one form of elite Ottoman music. I consider this example’s potential to unsettle dominant assumptions about genealogies behind canon practices. I then turn to questions about genealogy-making in intellectual practices, scrutinizing the workings of power and hegemony in particular ways we might inhabit our theoretical frameworks as music researchers. Understanding that techniques of repair must be leveraged at both individual and systemic scales, developing context-specific reparative approaches to genealogy requires collective insight and advocacy. What might distinct, capacious practices of repair look and sound like?


    Denise Gill
    ©Denise Gill

    Denise Gill is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at Stanford University. A two-time Fulbright recipient, Gill’s research has been recognized with the Jaap Kunst Prize and the Marcia Herndon Article Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology. She is the author of the book Melancholic Modalities: Affect, Islam, and Turkish Classical Musicians (Oxford University Press, 2017), which received the Ruth Stone Book Prize of the Society for Ethnomusicology. A lifelong student of Ottoman art and Mevlevi musics, Gill is a performer of the kanun. Her current book is an ethnography about listening after death, and as a gassâle, she is certified to wash and shroud the deceased for Janazah.

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  • Mina Yang (Minerva/USA)

    Classical Music in the After Times

    As the Covid pandemic winds down, those of us who care about classical music are wondering, what next? In many ways, the pandemic sped up and intensified trends that were already in motion, such as the digitization of performance and the racial reckoning of an elite culture that for too long claimed to be above the political fray, but the disruption has been more far reaching than we could have ever imagined. Before we release the “pause” button, we should take a moment to ask ourselves what the future of classical music looks like: How do we take care of the people who make this music, whose employment and welfare turned out to be even more conditional and precarious than we had previously thought? How do we educate our youths to be sensitive to the inequities that persist in this profession and the uneven power dynamics that still inform many music curricula? What is our role as culture workers in making bridges that connect people rather than divide or exclude? This keynote will begin to answer urgent questions that must be carefully considered if we are to rebuild a meaningful musical culture in the post-Covid era.


    Mina Yang
    ©Mina Yang

    Mina Yang is the author of California Polyphony: Ethnic Voices, Musical Crossroads (University of Illinois Press, 2008) and Planet Beethoven: Classical Music at the Turn of the Millennium (Wesleyan University Press, 2014). She has taught in music schools and universities throughout California, including the San Francisco Conservatory, University of California San Diego, and University of Southern California. As Professor of Arts & Humanities at Minerva Schools at the Keck Graduate Institute, Dr. Yang teaches music, visual arts, literature, and social history courses to students around the world on Minerva’s state of the art e-learning platform. Her research focuses on the convergence of commercialism, racial and sexual politics, and technology in global musical cultures.

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