El Instituto Cervantes utiliza cookies propias y de terceros para facilitar, mejorar y optimizar la experiencia del usuario, por motivos de seguridad, y para conocer sus hábitos de navegación. Recuerde que, al utilizar sus servicios, acepta su aviso legal y su política de cookies.

Por el futuro: hagamos que las relaciones culturales cuenten en una sociedad global post-crisis

La pandemia del Covid-19 está teniendo un efecto demoledor en la labor de las relaciones culturales internacionales. Actividades y colaboraciones en todo el mundo han sido canceladas o pospuestas y la mayoría de espacios culturales se han visto forzados a cerrar sus puertas. Artistas y organizaciones, incluyendo nuestros miembros, se han visto gravemente afectados por la abrupta interrupción de sus actividades, que dependen en gran medida del encuentro y la colaboración entre personas más allá de las fronteras. Los Agentes en el sector han acudido al ámbito digital como respuesta inicial, pero, ¿cómo seguir avanzado a largo plazo? ¿Cómo podemos garantizar que, después de la crisis, las relaciones culturales continúen aportando confianza y entendimiento mutuos entre el entorno europeo y el resto del mundo? 

  1. Consecuencias del Covid-19 en el ámbito de las relaciones culturales

Con el objetivo de obtener una visión de conjunto de la situación que enfrentan las relaciones culturales, EUNIC está documentando y analizando el impacto de la crisis en sus miembros. Algunas de las conclusiones más relevantes son: 

  • Se estima que los miembros de EUNIC han perdido alrededor de 6,6 millones de euros de ingresos debido al cierre de sus centros.
  • El 85% de nuestros miembros ha cerrado temporalmente al menos la mitad de sus sedes en el mundo 
  • Al menos la mitad de ellos se han visto obligados a cancelar contratos con artistas y expertos
  • Más de la mitad prevé suspender o reducir sus programas 
  • El 13% anticipa una reducción de plantilla
  • Entre los miembros que han necesitado buscar nuevas fuentes de ingresos, el 40% ha recurrido a cobrar por su oferta cultural y el 30% ha solicitado financiación privada 
  • El 85% de los miembros no reúnen las condiciones para solicitar fondos gubernamentales de emergencia 

Gobiernos nacionales, regionales y locales, así como otros actores del sector, han tomado medidas importantes para mitigar los efectos de la crisis y la Comisión Europea ha lanzado la plataforma Creatives Unite para recoger estas iniciativas. Nosotros nos unimos al conjunto de redes, organizaciones y personas de toda Europa que han llamado la atención sobre la grave situación de la cultura en esta crisis, demandando respuestas contundentes en apoyo al sector (Culture Action Europe, European Cultural Foundation, Europa Nostra, Miembros del Parlamento Europeo y otros muchos). 

Sin embargo, muchos países de la Unión Europea se están centrando en dar una respuesta exclusivamente a nivel nacional, dejando de lado nuestra responsabilidad europea y global. Las barreras alzadas hoy por razones sanitarias no deberían convertirse en la norma. Este no es el momento en el que los países deban mirar únicamente hacia dentro. 


Solo podremos superar esta crisis, recuperar el sector cultural global y restablecer las relaciones internacionales haciendo posible que personas de todo el mundo puedan encontrarse y colaborar libremente.

2. La importancia de las relaciones culturales internacionales

Las relaciones culturales generan un espíritu de diálogo y solidaridad global, y pueden ser la clave de una solución que nos mantenga conectados, resilientes y en un saludable estado mental ante la situación actual, lo que, a la vista de los enormes desafíos globales, se revela de una importancia sin precedente. Las relaciones culturales refuerzan la idea de una Europa compartida, aumentando su autorreflexión hacia una conciencia común de los valores compartidos.

Las relaciones culturales son fundamentales para generar confianza y entendimiento mutuos y construir un mundo más pacífico acercando a las personas a escala global. Las relaciones culturales han jugado un importante papel a la hora de promover relaciones pacíficas entre personas de todo el mundo. 

Dado que todos los Estados miembros de la Unión Europea dedican una cantidad considerable de sus presupuestos a las relaciones culturales (2.900 millones de euros en 2019), y al mantenimiento de redes mundiales de institutos culturales, (con más de 2.500 centros y 35.000 empleados), dichas relaciones culturales han sido durante décadas un instrumento destacado de la política exterior.

Si bien la participación en la vida cultural mejora la salud y el bienestar, las relaciones culturales pueden repercutir positivamente en la resolución de conflictos, la construcción de la paz y la elaboración de políticas relacionadas. La investigación ha demostrado que el acceso a la cultura es el segundo factor más determinante para el bienestar psicológico. 

La cultura crea empleo y competitividad y puede jugar un papel un papel relevante en la recuperación económica global. El empleo en el sector cultural de la UE hoy en día asciende a 8,7 millones de personas, convirtiendo a este sector en uno de los grandes empleadores, proporcionando 2 veces y media más trabajo a los europeos que el sector de la automoción. Con un superávit comercial de 8.700 millones de Euros en bienes culturales, se estima que los sectores cultural y creativo contribuyen con un 4.2% al PIB comunitario (EU Agenda for Culture, 2018). 

La economía global está impulsada por la creatividad cultural, la innovación y el acceso al conocimiento. Las industrias cultural y creativa representan alrededor de un 3% del PIB global y 30 millones de puestos de trabajo (UNESCO, 2016). Si bien el comercio mundial de productos creativos se ha duplicado con creces entre 2002 y 2015, creciendo a un ritmo del 7% anual, la creación de capacidad mutua y el fortalecimiento de las industrias culturales y creativas estimulan el empleo, capacitando a los jóvenes y a las mujeres para contribuir a unas economías resistentes (UNCTAD, 2019).

3. Formas de avanzar 

Para contrarrestar el aislamiento de las políticas culturales se necesitan iniciativas transnacionales que conecten artistas y profesionales más allá de las fronteras, para que el intercambio cultural y el diálogo intercultural puedan así florecer.

Para avanzar en  la construcción de la paz es necesario llegar a las personas, a través de la cultura, más allá de las fronteras a escala mundial. Como dijo el AR Josep Borrell en el Día Mundial de la Diversidad Cultural para el Diálogo y el Desarrollo, “tres cuartas partes de los mayores conflictos en el mundo tienen una dimensión cultural. La reducción de la brecha entre culturas es urgente y necesaria para la paz, la estabilidad y el desarrollo”. 

Los sectores culturales locales en todo el mundo necesitan apoyo. Muchos países no están en condiciones de dedicar recursos adicionales a los sectores culturales. En este sentido, la UE puede dar un paso adelante y desarrollar, junto con las autoridades y organizaciones de los países asociados, programas de apoyo que ayuden al sector.  

La movilidad internacional no debe detenerse. Mientras que cuestionar nuestros hábitos de viaje y reducirlos por el bien del medio ambiente es absolutamente necesario, nuestras relaciones de amistad con el mundo dependen de que las personas puedan encontrarse. Solo aprendiendo unos de otros podremos desarrollar la confianza y deshacernos de nuestros miedos y prejuicios.

Nuestro Proyecto European Spaces of Culture experimenta con nuevas formas de participación en las relaciones culturales y debería ampliarse. Estos modelos pueden servir como formas de salida de la crisis, comenzando una nueva forma de hacer cultura en el futuro: justa, igualitaria y basada en la escucha y el aprendizaje mutuos, la co-creación y un enfoque de abajo arriba.

Debemos adaptar nuestra forma de trabajar en el ámbito digital, encontrando nuevas formas híbridas de hacer relaciones culturales más allá de la crisis. Aunque la necesidad de reuniones cara a cara seguirá siendo permanente, el 81%  de los miembros de EUNIC está estudiando la posibilidad de desarrollar formatos híbridos que combinen la presencia física con el contenido virtual. Y mientras exploramos los medios digitales, no debemos dejar a nadie atrás. Las comunidades sin infraestructura digital también deben ser incluidas en los programas que desarrollamos para unir a las personas.

Al igual que el patrimonio cultural es importante para los europeos, ciertamente también lo es para los habitantes de otros continentes. El 71% de los europeos está de acuerdo con la afirmación “vivir cerca de lugares vinculados con el patrimonio cultural europeo puede mejorar la calidad de vida” (Eurobarómetro 466). Trabajar en el patrimonio cultural en el marco de las relaciones culturales puede ser un punto de apoyo para unir personas y comenzar un discurso honesto y significativo con comunidades en otros países sobre nuestro pasado y nuestras responsabilidades

Las relaciones culturales juegan un papel importante en la recuperación económica global. La creación de bienes culturales y la participación en la cultura crean una cantidad significativa de empleos. Empleos que aportan valor, empatía, paz y sentido de pertenencia a las comunidades. Invertir ahora en cultura junto con nuestros socios es la decisión más acertada para salir de la crisis lo más indemnes posible. 
4. Lo que debemos hacer ahora

“La cultura está en el corazón del progreso y puede jugar un papel fundamental en el periodo posterior a la actual crisis”. Ante esta declaración conjunta del AR Josep Borrell y la Comisaria Mariya Gabriel publicada el 21 de mayo de 2020, debemos aprovechar la oportunidad de situar las relaciones culturales en el centro de nuestros esfuerzos para combatir los efectos y repercusiones del brote de coronavirus. Dado que la cultura ha demostrado ser esencial para sostener nuestras sociedades en momentos de crisis, es preciso protegerla de los recortes presupuestarios en los marcos financieros posteriores a la crisis y aumentar sustancialmente los presupuestos de la UE destinados a estos sectores.

Por ello, hacemos un llamamiento a todos los actores de las relaciones culturales para: 

  • Implementar medidas para que la cultura pueda conectarnos a nivel mundial, compartir valores para mejorar las relaciones internacionales y aprender de las prácticas de cada uno, incluyendo el apoyo a los miembros de EUNIC
  • Mirar más allá de las fronteras nacionales y aunar esfuerzos para gestionar la crisis de forma multilateral 
  • Demostrar el poder de la cooperación efectiva ante los desafíos globales de nuestro tiempo, incluyendo una mejor coordinación de todas las actividades de la UE en el ámbito de las relaciones culturales
  • Invertir más en una política exterior conjunta de la UE que conceda un papel adecuado a las relaciones culturales. 
  • Fortalecer las estructuras organizativas y financieras de la UE, incluyendo la Comisión Europea y el Servicio de Acción Exterior Europeo, para que se involucren en la cultura 
  • Continuar invirtiendo en cooperación cultural europea, resistirse a los recortes presupuestarios tanto a las redes culturales como a la creación de capacidad conjunta y a las actividades sobre el terreno en el ámbito de las relaciones culturales
  • Apoyar las iniciativas multilaterales dentro de la estrategia de la Unión Europea para las relaciones culturales internacionales 
  • Continuar invirtiendo en cultura dentro de los programas de cooperación al desarrollo
  • Fortalecer el componente internacional de Europa Creativa
  • Fortalecer las iniciativas existentes, tales como European Spaces of Culture, que puedan contribuir a la superación de la crisis 
  • Lograr que el apoyo a los entornos culturales locales sea una prioridad global
  • Participar en formas digitales e híbridas de trabajar en las relaciones culturales 
  • Aprender mutuamente de las prácticas actuales y futuras de cada uno a través de procesos de abajo-arriba

Juntos, EUNIC y sus miembros, están preparados para hacer su parte. 

For the future: Make cultural relations count in a post-crisis global society 

The Covid-19 pandemic has a crushing effect on the work of international cultural relations. Activities and collaborations worldwide are cancelled or postponed, while most cultural venues are forced to close their doors. Artists and organisations, including our members, are severely affected by the abrupt discontinuation of their activities, which rely so heavily on people coming together to collaborate across borders. Actors in the field moved to the digital realm as an initial response, but how to go forward in the longer term? How can we ensure that, after this crisis, cultural relations continue to bring trust and understanding between the people of Europe and the wider world?

  1. Covid-19 effects on cultural relations work 

In order to get an overview of the situation confronting international cultural relations, EUNIC is documenting and analysing the impact of the crisis on its members. Some major findings:

  • An estimated 6.6 million euros of income was lost by EUNIC members due to branches closing.
  • 85% of members temporarily closed at least half of their branches worldwide.
  • Almost half were forced to cancel contracts with artists and experts.
  • More than half foresee discontinuing or downsizing programmes.
  • 13% are concerned about staff downsizing.
  • Of those members who had to resort to new ways of gathering income, 40% have started to charge for their cultural offerings and 30% have applied for private funding.
  • 85% of members are not eligible to apply for emergency government funding.

National, regional and local governments and other actors have taken important measures to mitigate the crisis and The European Commission has launched the Creatives Unite platform to gather such initiatives. We join a chorus of networks, organisations and individuals across Europe who have flagged the dire situation of culture in this crisis, calling for strong responses in support of the sector (e.g. Culture Action Europe, ECF, Europa Nostra, Members of the European Parliament, and many more).

However, many EU countries are focusing only on a response at national level, leaving behind our joint European and global responsibility. Barriers currently raised for public health reasons should not remain the norm. Now is no longer the time for countries to look inwards. 

The crisis will only be resolved, the global cultural sector will only recover, and international relations will only be restored if peoples of the world are enabled to meet and collaborate freely with one another.

2. The importance of international cultural relations

Cultural relations generate a spirit of dialogue and global solidarity. Cultural relations can be at the heart of the solution to remain connected, resilient and in good mental health in the current situation. In the face of a truly global challenge, this is more important than ever. Cultural relations strengthen the idea of ​​a shared Europe, increasing its self-reflection towards a common awareness of joint values.

Cultural relations are key in creating trust and understanding and a more peaceful world by bringing people together on a global scale. Cultural relations have played an important role in fostering peaceful relations between the peoples of the world. With all EU Member States dedicating a considerable amount of their budgets to cultural relations (EUR 2.9 billion in 2019), maintaining world spanning networks of cultural institutes (more than 2,500 branches with more than 35,000 staff), cultural relations have been over decades a prominent tool in foreign policy. 

While cultural participation improves health and well-being, cultural relations can positively impact conflict resolution, peace building, and related policy development. Research has demonstrated that cultural access is the second most important determinant of psychological well-being.

Culture creates jobs and competitiveness and can play an important role in the global economic recovery. EU cultural employment is today at 8.7 million, making the sector one of the largest employers and providing jobs for 2.5 times more Europeans than the automotive sector. There is a EUR 8.7 billion trade surplus in cultural goods, and cultural and creative sectors are estimated to contribute 4.2% to EU gross domestic product (EU Agenda for Culture, 2018). 

The global economy is driven by cultural creativity, innovation and access to knowledge. Cultural and creative industries represent around 3% of the global GDP and 30 million jobs (UNESCO, 2016). While global trade in creative products has more than doubled between 2002 and 2015, growing at a rate of 7% annually, mutual capacity building and the strengthening of the cultural and creative industries stimulate jobs, empowering youth and women to contribute to resilient economies (UNCTAD, 2019). 

3. Ways forward

To counter the isolation of national cultural policies, transnational initiatives connecting artists and professionals across borders are being called for so that cultural exchange and intercultural dialogue can flourish.

To continue peace building, reaching out to people worldwide through culture is needed. As HR/VP Josep Borrell said on the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, “three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension. Bridging the gap between cultures is urgent and necessary for peace, stability and development.”

Local cultural sectors worldwide require support. Many countries are not in a position to devote additional resources to the cultural sectors. Here the EU can stride ahead and develop, together with authorities and organisations in partner countries, support schemes that help. 

International mobility must not stop. Whereas questioning our traveling habits and reducing them for the sake of the environment is absolutely necessary, our friendly relations with the world depend on people meeting. Only by learning about each other can we develop trust and shed our fears and prejudices. 

Our project “European Spaces of Culture” tests new ways of engaging in cultural relations and should be enlarged. The models found here can serve as way out of the crisis, starting a new kind of doing culture in the future – fair, equal, based on mutual listening and learning, co-creation and a bottom-up approach. 

We must adapt our way of working in the digital realm, finding new, hybrid ways of doing cultural relations beyond the crisis. As the need for face-to-face meetings will remain permanent, 81% of EUNIC members are looking at developing hybrid formats that combine physical presence with virtual content. And while we are exploring digital means, we must leave no one behind. Communities without digital infrastructure must also be included in the programmes we develop to bring people together. 

Cultural heritage is important for Europeans, as it is for the people from other continents. 71% of Europeans agree that “living close to places related to Europe’s cultural heritage can improve quality of life” (Eurobarometer 466). Working on cultural heritage in the framework of cultural relations can be a steppingstone to bring people together and start an honest and meaningful discourse with communities in partner countries about our past and responsibilities.

Cultural relations can play an important role in the global economic recovery. Creating cultural goods and engaging in culture does create a significant amount of jobs – jobs that bring value, empathy, peace and a sense of belonging to communities. Investing in culture together with our partners is the right thing to do now to emerge from this crisis as unscathed as possible. 

4. What we must do now

“Culture is at the heart of progress: it can play a truly key role in the aftermath of the current crisis.” Along with this joint statement by HR/VP Josep Borrell and Commissioner Mariya Gabriel published on 21 May 2020, we must seize the opportunity to put cultural relations at the core of our efforts to combat the rippling effects of the coronavirus outbreak. As culture has proven to be essential in sustaining our societies in moments of crisis, culture must be protected from budget cuts in the post-crisis financial frameworks and EU budgets for culture must be substantially increased. 

Therefore, we call on all actors in cultural relations to:

  • Install measures so that culture is enabled to connect people worldwide, share values to improve international relations and learn from each other’s practice – including supporting EUNIC members
  • Look beyond national borders and join efforts multilaterally to manage the crisis 
  • Demonstrate the power of effective cooperation in meeting the global challenges of our time, including better coordination of all EU activities in cultural relations
  • Invest more in a joint EU foreign policy that includes an appropriate role for cultural relations
  • Strengthen the organisational and financial set-up in the EU, including the European Commission and the European External Action Service, to engage in culture
  • Continue investing in European cultural cooperation, resist cutting budgets for networks, co-capacity building and cultural relations activities on the ground
  • Support multilateral initiatives under the EU strategic approach for international cultural relations
  • Continue investing in culture within development cooperation programmes
  • Strengthen the international component of Creative Europe
  • Strengthen and continue existing initiatives such as “European Spaces of Culture” that can contribute to the overcoming of the crisis
  • Make support to local cultural scenes worldwide a priority
  • Engage in digital and hybrid ways to work in cultural relations
  • Learn from each other’s current and future practice by a bottom-up process

Together, EUNIC and its members are ready to do their part.

«My experience in Argentina was life-changing and proved decisive in setting me on a career path in music»

This week, we continue a series of interviews with personalities from the Spanish-British sphere. Our eighth guest, Helen Glaisher-Hernández, pianist, Latin Classical music expert and artistic director of the Iberian & Latin American Music Society (ILAMS).

For the past four years, ILAMS and Instituto Cervantes London have co-produced the ECHOES Festival of Latin Classical Music, taking place across some of the capital’s most prestigious classical music venues, such as St Martin-in-the-Fields, the Royal Academy of Music and St James’s Piccadilly.

Following two degrees in Spanish and French at the University of Cambridge (Corpus Christi College), including a year abroad studying Piano at the Conservatorio Nacional Superior in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and an MMus in Piano at Trinity College of Music in London, Glaisher-Hernández now combines her two great loves – music and hispanicity – as a concert pianist, event producer and educator specialising in Luso-Hispanic repertoire.

You often say that your two great loves are music and hispanicity. How do you combine both in your life? 

Well, I was born in the UK, in Sheffield, but am also half-Spanish by virtue of my Canarian mother, who is a tinerfeña. As a child, I was quite wilful and typically replied in English whenever my mother spoke to me in Spanish. I understood her perfectly well, though, because she had persevered in speaking her mother tongue to me regardless ever since I was born. (Now my Spanish is near-native, and I feel very grateful that she did!) I perfected my Spanish at secondary school and since this was my absolute favourite A-Level subject, I then opted to read Spanish (and French) at university. 

Having also studied piano from the age of four, and achieving an advanced level in my teens, it occurred to me that I could use the requisite ‘Year Abroad’ of my Languages degree to further my playing by studying piano in a Hispanic country. I’d been to Spain so many times by that point, and having never left Europe, South America beckoned to me in a much more enticing way. After investigating the options, I discovered that Argentina housed one of the best musical institutions on the continent, the Conservatorio Nacional Superior ‘López Buchardo’ in Buenos Aires, and the Dean there kindly agreed to let me enrol on the first year of their undergraduate Music degree. My experience there was life-changing and proved decisive in setting me on a career path in music – something I’d never seriously considered until then.

When I returned to England I made plans to audition for music college here after my graduation from university, and was accepted at Trinity College of Music (as it was then known); I wanted to study with a particular tutor there, the Venezuelan pianist, Elena Riu. From the off I played a lot of Luso/Hispanic music with a view to specialising in that repertoire professionally. 

…And ten years later that’s essentially what I’m still doing. Of course, I play all sorts of composers (I’m not a Latin ‘fetishist’, as some people seem to think) but with my particular background, and after so many years of studying Hispanic ‘letters’ (including Hispanic literature, film, theatre and visual arts) at university, it gives me a lot of satisfaction to bring my cultural knowledge and experience to performing and promoting this wonderful but highly-neglected music; music which I sincerely believe can count itself amongst the finest ever written anywhere. In fact, I would argue that no non-native musician can authoritatively tackle this repertoire without having enjoyed a considerable level of immersion in the vast, diverse and extremely rich culture that is Hispanic culture. And I would cite cultural understanding (or a lack of it) as the main challenge facing international promoters of Latin classical music today. 

Since graduating from Trinity, I feel privileged to have performed at some of the UK’s most prestigious venues, and to have been able to collaborate with some truly great artists from the Latin classical music field. At the moment I’m working on the release of my first album, which explores the globalisation of the tango through its operatic roots. The recording also features the Argentine tenor, Leonardo Pastore, soprano, Jaquelina Livieri, and mezzo-soprano, Florencia Machado – all leading opera singers in Argentina, alongside various instrumentalists from the Buenos Aires Philharmonic. Don’t ask me exactly when it’s coming out, because the Coronavirus pandemic has thrown uncertainty on all our plans, but watch this space!

First performance of the TangOpera project in the UK with Argentine tenor, Leonardo Pastore, in 2019 at Zédel in London.

Since you have a degree in Spanish and French from Cambridge University, did languages open doors to you? 

So (without wishing to brag!), I actually have two degrees from Cambridge: an MA in ‘Modern and Medieval Languages’ and an MPhil in ‘European Literature’, which I decided to ‘tag on’ to my first degree before switching to Music. I did this for the entirely flippant reason that all my friends were doing it, and I thought it would be ‘fun’ to continue to maintain some sort of academic activity whilst I took a year to prepare for Music auditions. Of course, as it turned out, the MPhil was very intense and necessarily absorbed most of my time and headspace, and I ended up delaying my musical plans for another year. My MPhil, however, unexpectedly turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. After four years of achieving only average-to-good marks as an undergraduate, I seemed to blossom as a postgraduate, to the extent that the Faculty subsequently offered me funding to stay on for PhD. …But I’d been too seduced by music by that point to abandon my plans. Nonetheless, I now see that year as an essential part of my education, and I particularly enjoyed working on areas such as Argentine film and the plays of Lope de Vega, whilst for my dissertation I explored the Canarian cross-currents present in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. During this year I also studied a considerable amount of Postcolonial Theory, which continues to colour my understanding of the world, and its music, to this day.

As for the opening of doors, I never really contemplated pursuing a career in Languages in the literal sense – the idea of becoming an interpreter, for example, never appealed to me, although I think it almost goes without saying that having Languages can only improve one’s career prospects in any sector. For me, the importance of Languages is not so much utilitarian as humanistic – and increasingly so in these troubled times in which we live. We Brits are infamous throughout the world for our relative reluctance to learn languages, our misplaced indolence predicated on the convenient reality that the rest of the world is more than adept at speaking ours. But instead of bringing increased peace and enlightenment, the new digital century has delivered an overwhelming intensification of globalisation that we are struggling to assimilate, and which has instead only led to culture wars, the hardening of politics and the polarisation of societies worldwide. 

The mainstream media have driven public discourse into a narrow dialectic by overwhelmingly tackling these problems as political ones, but in my opinion our problems are fundamentally cultural; the result of a naive and incoherent identity politics (on all sides) spouted by people unversed in any kind of nuanced cultural thinking. A consensus of the population seem to view investment in the cultural industries as a merely optional adjunct to the ‘utilities’ of the economy, but as Winston Churchill eloquently warned us, “Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.” I believe that culture is the answer to all our social and political problems. In order to solve the challenges of globalism we must do better at understanding each other – the survival of the planet and our species depend on it. I consider language to be the keystone of any culture, and so in that sense, we must all learn languages. …And by the way, music is also a kind of language!

MPhil Dissertation Cover, 2005

Your year abroad studying piano at the Conservatorio Nacional Superior in Buenos Aires, how was it? 

If I tell you that I really didn’t want to come back at the end of the year, that might give you some sense of how devastatingly incredible it was. I went out there with consciously low expectations, never dreaming that I would literally have the time of my life. I’ve been back to Argentina many times since then, so it seems like a second home now, but I still remember how it felt that first time, and it makes me a little nostalgic to think about it. It was a very special experience that had a profound and lasting effect on my life in many ways.

I think the first time you leave Europe – as a European, I mean – it’s always something of an experience, like landing on a different planet. Argentina is a place where crazy things happen to you. Having said that, I soon felt like I strangely belonged there. Argentinian people are incredible characters, and I was quickly seduced onto their wavelength. To an extent, Argentines have a reputation for being corrupt and duplicitous, but that wasn’t my experience at all, at least not in my personal relationships. On the contrary, I think Argentines are quite simply the best people on the planet – the most generous, witty, intellectual and genuine you’ll ever encounter. Everything runs deep. When they say something, they mean it, and they’re all philosophers, down to the taxi drivers and the person checking out your shopping at the supermarket. They blew my mind constantly; every conversation was a revelation. Once they befriend you, the bond is permanent. I still have a lot of the same friends I made there 17 years ago, and they’re some of the best friends I ever had. 

The city, by extension, and despite its size, is also warm and welcoming – it embraces you as you walk down the street. I lived in a student residence with Argentinians from all corners of the country who had also come to study in the capital, as well as a few Brazilians. Supposedly, the building – a traditional 19th-centuy house in the Barrio Norte district – had originally been a brothel, and it was definitely haunted – I had some unusual experiences there! There was never a dull moment.

At the time of my arrival in 2002, Argentina had just been plunged into an economic crisis and the peso had lost more than two thirds of its value overnight. Argentinians suffered terribly, but for me this was effectively like  winning the lottery. It meant that me and my pounds sterling could jet-set around the country taking 5-star mini-breaks, and eat out every day of the week. I didn’t have a care in the world. It was nice to temporarily feel the liberating effects of relative wealth, although thinking about it now, it does seem a little decadent given what was going on around me.

Studying at a conservatoire for the very first time was also an awe-inspiring experience. …Bearing in mind that I was probably the first Briton to ever study there in the history of the institution. My fellow students couldn’t quite understand why on earth I would leave England to go there. I was something of a curiosity, and all the students knew who I was and wanted to be my friend. (It’s my conclusion that Argentines have a profound admiration for the British. Although they often pretend to hate us, I think they’d secretly like to be us.) I had a wonderful piano teacher, Graciela Beretervide (a former student of Arrau), with whom I studied Handel, Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninov. She was like a mother to me, and we still keep in touch. I also attended all the first-year modules in subjects such as Critical Theory, Musical Forms, Gregorian Chant, Alexander Technique, and so on. Studying classical Music History from the point of view of the third world, for example, was very eye-opening. The best part was that, not being a permanent student, I didn’t have to actually sit any of the exams, so I just dedicated myself to taking it all in and having a great time! By night I went out to all sorts of concerts with my friends.

It was a beautiful time. I walked around in a constant state of euphoria, with a permanent smile on my face. But it was ultimately an artificial situation which inevitably had to end. Coming back to England to do my finals was, by comparison, pretty depressing. But as Eladia Blázquez said in her famous tango, ‘siempe se vuelve a Buenos Aires’. (‘You always go back to Buenos Aires’.) And so I have, several times, and I’m sure I wild find myself there again…

In Buenos Aires with my dear piano teacher, Graciela Beretervide, in 2017

How did you start to appreciate the music of different cultures and traditions from an early age? 

Mainly because my father was British and my mother is Spanish, and they each tended to listen to very different things. My mother liked to have Canarian folk music on in the background, and other types of Hispanic music –  Mocedades, Julio Iglesias, Rocío Jurado…as well as Latin American artists such as Mercedes Sosa, Los Panchos and Los Paraguayos.

My father, being of a slightly older generation to my mother, played a lot of music from the 1940s onwards – Glen Miller and big-band swing music, George Formby, crooners like Bing Crosby, Hollywood musicals… He also liked the pop music of the 60s and 70s. In his record collection he had Shirley Bassey, The Carpenters, Burt Bacharach, ABBA, The Bee Gees, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka… My father was a businessman by trade, but used to organise concerts for the Variety Club to raise money for charity – he put on huge events around Yorkshire with artists such as Matt Monroe and The Nolan Sisters.

Neither of my parents ever had any kind of musical training, although they were (are) naturally very musical and respectively very decent singers (they were always singing around the house) – I always thought both of them could have been professionals. I think the point at which they intersected musically was Nat King Cole’s En español – an album which now reminds me of them and makes me very sentimental. 

In terms of classical music, I was exposed to a lot of the standard orchestral repertoire at the local youth orchestra as a teenager where I played violin, alongside things I heard on Classic FM. During my Sixth Form I also did an ALCM diploma and studied a lot of the ‘Great’ composers.

My elder brother, Mik, was a professional musician, however – he was the drummer in a successful Sheffield band of the 80s and 90s called the Comsat Angels. They had some brilliant songs, the most famous probably ‘Independence Day’. When I was a teenager, Mik would ‘corrupt’ my listening habits by making me mixtapes of the Beatles, and various rock and grunge bands I’d never heard of, like Juliana Hatfield. Obviously at that time my own interests came from what was in the Top 40, i.e. Brit Pop – Pulp (also a Sheffield band) and Radiohead probably the most. Plus any number of pop artists from that time; my biggest guilty secret being Bon Jovi. (Still is.) 

As a teenager I also had musical escapades in Spain each summer when my parents would send me off to Tenerife to spend the holidays at my grandparents’ house. My aunties used to take me out clubbing with their friends and we danced to a lot of salsa. A lot of the Latin pop they played on the radio also rubbed off on me. Mónica Naranjo, Juanes, Alejandro Sanz…

You could say that my musical tastes have become very eclectic, but I only really divide music into two types: good and bad. But I like to keep an open mind and am always listening to new things. I would say music is my addiction.

Sheffield band, The Comsat Angels, in 1994. The drummer, my brother, Mik Glaisher, second from the right. This is how I always remember him, with his long 90s hair.

You have a special passion for chamber music and vocal accompaniment. How did you become interested? 

I first ‘discovered’ the beautiful thing that is chamber music at the conservatoire in Argentina. We had a weekly chamber music class in which we all had to form small ensembles and perform in front of each other. There was also a strong feeling of solidarity within the class which helped to convert me. As a pianist, the concept of playing with other people was entirely new to me. The life of a pianist is a relatively solitary one, and you really need a certain ego and temperament to want to perform publicly as a soloist – a temperament I don’t really possess. I find the experience a bit like navel-gazing in public, whereas when you collaborate with others it’s a more sociable and humbling experience. …Plus you get the benefit of seeing things from different perspectives.

I didn’t really get into vocal accompaniment until I got to Trinity, when I was approached by a soprano who was into some of the same things that I was. I’d never really had any particular interest in vocal music before then – you would have literally had to drag me by the hair to see an opera. But the more I got into it, the more I began to appreciate the marvel that is the human voice and the incredible technical feats that classical singers perform. I’ve come to agree with Avro Part, who famously said that ‘the human voice is the most perfect instrument of all’. At first I didn’t quite know how to listen discerningly to a singer (most people don’t); it was something I’ve learnt to do gradually, and I’m still learning. Now I envy singers – I really wish I could do what they do. Perhaps in my next life I’ll come back as a singer…As for this one, I’m quite content to enjoy it vicariously through the various singers I work with, and I’ve been lucky to play with some really great ones.

Performing with the illustrious Cuban soprano, Bárbara Llanes, in 2010 at St James’s Piccadilly in London.

You have performed live at major London venues, including the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Barbican’s Milton Court Concert Hall, St John’s Smith Square, St Martin-in-the-Fields. Which one is the most special for you? 

All of these venues are special in their own way and I love them all, but I would actually cite one you didn’t mention: the National Gallery in London. In 2015, I curated a concert titled Music in the Time of Goya in tandem with the blockbuster exhibition, Goya: the Portraits. In addition to being able to work with the acclaimed flamenco dancer, Nina Corti, who provided some bespoke choreographies to accompany the pieces, it was quite magical to be able to play 18th-century music at the Gallery’s illustrious Barry Rooms, surrounded by masterpieces from the same period, where Myra Hess also used to present her historic lunchtime wartime concerts. It’s a beautiful thing when art forms can converge and combine to work in synergy with the surrounding space. It also makes for a more ‘total’ experience for the audience. The project has its own website where you can view video clips and images from the performance, as well as images of some of the Goya paintings featured in the exhibition: musicinthetimeofgoya.com

Music in the Time of Goya at the National Gallery in London in 2015.

You also work as Artistic Director of ILAMS in promoting Iberian classical music in the UK. What events do you curate? How did you become involved? 

To answer your second question first: I started volunteering for ILAMS whilst I was still a student at Trinity. I came across the Society whilst promoting a concert I was organising, and asked the committee if they would advertise the event to their members. A few representatives from the Society came along to my concert, and on seeing that I had a pretty good turn-out I guess they thought I could be of some use to the organisation. I joined the committee in 2006, and when in 2008 the then Chairman left ILAMS, I was voted in as his successor.

Since then, the Society has developed considerably in many ways, although it remains a modest, grass-roots organisation. Our activities are now basically divided into three strands: our monthly lunchtime concert series at St Martin-in-the-Fields and St James’s Piccadilly; our bi-monthly classical guitar series, Guitarrísimo, and our annual Echoes Festival.  

The complete ILAMS programme archive is viewable on the Society website, and there is also a highlights page. Personal favourites for me include presenting artists and ensembles such as Celso Machado, Leo Brouwer, John Williams, Bárbara Llanes, Onix, Marcelo Bratke, Jesús León, Coro Cervantes, Cecilia Rodrigo, Thibaut García, Douglas Riva, Moreno Gistaín Duo, Aquarelle Guitar Quartet, Lena Semenova, Jacquelina Livieri, Alvaro Pierri and the Mela Guitar Quartet, amongst many others.

Leo Brouwer in conversation with John Williams and Steve Goss at the Bolívar Hall in 2017 as part of the Guitarrísimo series co-produced by ILAMS and the Instituto Cervantes.

You also organise Echoes Festival every year. How did it start? Can you share some great moments from these years with us? 

Echoes Festival was born out of a mounting practical necessity to consolidate the limited human and financial resources of the Society, since we were previously spreading ourselves across the year with a more ad hoc programme of events which were quite disparate. We also wanted a way of focusing public attention on our activities in a more concentrated and singular way, which was facilitated by putting together all of our evening events under one umbrella. Futhermore, in 2016, the year we launched the Festival, there wasn’t (and still isn’t) an annual Festival of Latin classical music in the UK, so it seemed obvious to go in this direction.

All of the programmes from the last four editions of the Festival are available to view on the Festival website. It’s difficult for me to single out any favourite concerts because we have made a concerted effort from the start to programme artists of only the highest calibre, and even within that remit I have often been surprised at the high level we have witnessed. Of course, we’re proud to have featured more widely-known artists from the Iberican classical music circuit, such as the Quiroga Quartet, the Assad Brothers, Odaline de la Martínez and La Grande Chapelle. But some of our younger or lesser-known artists have often been equally beguiling, such as Dichos Diabolos, and the Lacock Scholars. For me, it’s also so valuable to be able to hear some of the best native specialists presenting their national repertoire – such as Venezuelan pianist, Clara Rodríguez, performing the music of her compatriot Antonio Estévez, or Alessandro Santoro performing pieces by his father, Claudio Santoro, that he grew up hearing around the house. Other events have stood out for me because of the holistic experience of hearing music in more quirky and edgy venues: pianist Carla Ruaro performing Amazonian music in the dark depths of the Brunel Tunnel, the concrete floor strewn with leaves; guitarist Darío Barozzi at the historic Cinema Museum, where Charlie Chaplin grew up.

From your experience working with ILAMS and ECHOES, do you think the interest in Iberian classical music among the British public has increased? 

I’d like to think that with all the energy that ILAMS has put into our work since 1997, when the Society was founded, we have obviously had a positive impact on the reception of this music. We certainly have a much larger mailing list now than when we started, and our public has grown considerably, with capacity audiences becoming more commonplace at our events. But in broader terms, the wider impact of these things is difficult to quantify. Overall, I think animosity towards this music continues to persist amongst British audiences to the extent that we are still nowhere close to achieving parity of reception with standard European repertoire, and there is therefore still a lot of work left to do.

My sense is that it still takes the really heavy guns to make a systemic difference to the landscape: it requires the superstars of classical music – the Placido Domingos and Gustavo Dudamels of the industry – to present music at major venues and to be featured in the mainsteam classical media to really create significant shifts in public tastes; sadly, the music seems unable to do this purely on its own merits. But I think it’s understandable to a point – it’s human nature to eschew the unknown (and I’m as guilty as most people in this respect). What is always encouraging, however, is that in cases where audiences have been convinced to attend an event, their response to the music is overwhelmingly positive; certainly when ILAMS presents unfamiliar music it invariably goes down very well. Once people are exposed to this repertoire they tend to like it, so the music itself is not the problem; the challenge lies in convincing people to go and hear something they’re unfamiliar with in the first place – especially if they have to part with their hard-earned cash to do so.

A packed house enjoys Bach & Bachianas at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room in 2013, featuring Brazilian pianist Marcelo Bratke performing for ILAMS as part of La Linea Festival.

«I cannot stress enough how important modern languages research is today»

This week, we continue a series of interviews with personalities from the Spanish-British sphere. Our seventh guest, Catherine Davies, is Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR) since 2014. Davies was also Professor of Hispanic and Latin American Studies at the University of Nottingham (since 2004), where she was Head of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures.

After gaining her PhD (Glasgow) in 1984, Davies taught and researched at the universities of Manchester, Queen Mary and St Andrews. Davies has held several research grants funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust.

Her research expertise is in the culture, history and literature of Spain and Spanish America in the 19th and 20th centuries, with a particular focus on Galicia (Spain), Cuba and Argentina. Her publications examine the construction of gender identities and the roles of women in the Spanish American Wars of Independence from Spain (1810s-1820s).

A workshop at IMLR

– You have been the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR) director since August 2014, how have these years been? What do you value the most from this experience?

The IMLR is funded by the government and the University of London to support research in Modern Languages across the UK. The aim is to create a space for academic discussion around research, rather than teaching or administration, to lead on new initiatives, and to collaborate as much as possible with non-academic partners to establish strong networks and facilitate public engagement around ML research. Looking back, my job as Director has been mainly working with people from many different backgrounds, including university colleagues, to create sustainable partnerships with definite research outcomes, which I hope have benefited the ML community in general. I loved every minute of it, and I’ll miss meeting so many interesting people and getting involved in many different types of organisations. The experience really opened my eyes to the significance of language expertise across all sectors of society.      

– IMLR and Instituto Cervantes London are long standing partners, how do you describe the relationship between both institutions?

We work together very closely, especially since Ignacio Peyró took up his post. My own research is in what I still refer to as ‘Hispanic Studies’, so I personally have always valued highly the Cervantes, both in London and in the 1990s in Manchester. When I was Head of the Spanish and Portuguese Department in Manchester University we arranged for the Cervantes to teach some of our language classes. At the IMLR the relationship is all to do with collaboration in research and outreach. If, for example, the Cervantes is hosting a visiting speaker, the IMLR can organise a research workshop with the speaker on a theme of interest to the UK research community and provide the catering and publicity. Or the IMLR might take an idea to the Cervantes and together we make it happen. We each have our own networks, contacts and influences and join forces whenever we can. The IMLR has a similar relationship with the Goethe, French and Italian Cultural Institutes, and several Embassies.    

– How could you describe the importance of modern languages research in a multilingual and globalised world?

I cannot stress enough how important modern languages research is today. Language expertise is vital for international understanding and cross-cultural exchange. Research in the written and visual cultures of non-Anglophone societies, which is where most Modern Language researchers focus their attention, is increasingly urgent. For example, how have the different countries and cultural communities reacted to the Covid-19 crisis? How can we possibly understand this without expertise in languages and cultural sensitivities? Modern Languages research has always been strong in the UK but the discipline is facing difficulties in university recruitment.  Entrants to study Modern Languages degrees have steadily decreased since the mid-2000s, especially in German and French, and many Modern Languages units have closed over the last decade. This is not good news for the UK, now facing Brexit and the need for international trade deals, not to mention fighting a global pandemic and finding a new role in the global economy.   

Poetry reading in the entrance to Senate House on international poetry day

– Since you gained your PhD at the University of Glasgow in 1984, you have taught at the universities of St Andrews, Manchester and Queen Mary, among others. Do you see a bigger interest in learning languages?

If you  take the long-view, I would say there is as much interest in learning languages in UK Higher Education as ever, but students are tending to take degrees in other subjects, such as Science or Law, and to study a language in the University Language Centres (what we call University Wide Provision). They may not reach the same level of expertise as those who take languages degrees, but they often come back to the language later in life. The number of university students taking languages in the 1980s and 1990s was relatively small, especially in Spanish, much smaller than today, and they tended to study French and German with Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Russian as minor subjects. Then there was a steady increase in the late 1990s and early 2000s (during the Labour government and university expansion), and a gradual shift from French and German to Spanish and Chinese. I remember when I was Head of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Nottingham, recruitment was not an issue until the around 2012. In fact, the concern was that we didn’t have sufficient staff to teach the numbers of students taking Spanish and Portuguese.        

– Your research interests include gender and nationalism in Cuba and Spain, particularly the formation and transmission of liberal thought in 19th-century Spanish and Spanish American literature and cultural history. How did you become interested in this topic?

My research on gender, politics and nationalism began with my PhD, at the University of Glasgow, on the Galician author Rosalía de Castro. This was the subject of my first book, published by Galaxia in Galician in 1987. I sent my thesis to Ramón Piñeiro through the post (no digital files in those days) and a box of books arrived three years later. I never found out who the translators were, and it has never been published in English. At the time, it was generally assumed that Rosalía de Castro was a big name in Cuba, but when I went to Cuba to research this further, I realised this wasn’t the case. She may have been important in the nineteenth century among the Galician migrants, but in Castro’s Cuba she was virtually forgotten. I published a book on Cuban women writers, and an edition of the 1846 abolitionist novel, Sab, written by the Cuban/Spanish author, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. This led to an interest in the work of Spanish abolitionist, Rafael María Labra, who was born in Havana but whose family were Asturian. His father was in the Spanish army and governor of Cienfuegos; there is still a gleaming white statue of the father, Ramón, in the central square today.    

The statue of Ramón María de Labra in Cienfuegos, Cuba

– You also wrote a number of books including on abolitionism in Cuba and co-wrote South American Independence: Gender, Politics, Text. What are you currently working on?

I have always been interested in the published writings of women in nineteenth-century Spain and Spanish America. I find it is impossible to come to grips with these texts without fully understanding the social and political circumstances of the times. The earliest women’s writings in nineteenth-century Spanish America are by women who were inevitably caught up in the Wars of Independence from Spain, between 1810 and 1830 more or less. I led a research project on this subject and we created a map-based database of hundreds of women involved in the wars hosted by the University of Nottingham: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/genderlatam

Painting of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda

My own research for the co-authored book you refer to focused on the writings of the Colombian Josefa de Acevedo and Argentine, Juan de Manso. The 1820s was a pivotal decade in Spanish America, everything changed. I’m now working on the travelogues written by British travellers to the River Plate in the 1820s, texts written in English but translated into Spanish and published in Argentina in the 1920s. The books written by the ‘viajeros ingleses’ are very well known in Argentina but almost forgotten in the UK.  Although written by sea captains, army officers and company agents they are beautifully crafted literary texts but are only used now and then by British historians seeking factual data.       

Luke Stegemann: “En España descubrí una Europa que me habían ocultado”

Hijo de cura anglicano y criado en el corazón rural de Nueva Gales del Sur, el australiano Luke Stegemann descubrió España por sorpresa en los años 80. Enamorado del país, no tuvo más remedio que volver a vivir en él, y desde entonces compagina temporadas en Australia y temporadas en España. Con una larga carrera como profesor, traductor y periodista -The Adelaide Review, The Melbourne Review-, y popular en las redes por su afecto a todo lo español, Stegemann ha escrito dos libros de tema completa o parcialmente español: The beautiful obscure (Transmission Press, 2017) y Amnesia road: landscape, violence and memory (NewSouth Publishing, febrero 2021).

-En The Beautiful Obscure se unen su condición de australiano que descubre España y la reflexión sobre los encuentros y lejanías entre ambos países en la Historia. ¿Qué atrae a un australiano, allá por los 80, a lo español?

Tuvo algo de fortuito. Viajaba por Europa tras terminar mi primera carrera y no había planeado pasar más de unos días. Sin embargo, una vez en España, sentí una atracción inmediata, a diferencia de lo que sentía, por ejemplo, en Grecia, Italia, Francia o Alemania. Los dos o tres días que había planificado pasar allí se convirtieron en un mes a medida que viajaba cada vez más por el país. Estamos hablando de 1984, y de una España que en muchos aspectos ha desaparecido por completo. La sensación más evidente fue la de descubrir una Europa de la que nunca me habían hablado. Era como si una sección entera del continente, cuya historia creía haber estudiado, hubiera estado oculta.

Así que la atracción era hacia lo desconocido, pero no era tan simple como la experiencia clásica de «orientalización» de «lo exótico». De inmediato quedó claro que esto era parte de mi propio patrimonio cultural, parte de la historia del continente de mis antepasados. Inmediatamente pensé: «¿Cómo no supe esto?» y luego, «¿Cómo puedo vivir aquí?» Cuando regresé a Australia y expliqué mi plan para vivir en España lo antes posible, mi familia y amigos no daban crédito. España aún no se había unido a la UE y estaba discutiendo su entrada en la OTAN. Dos años después, ya estaba en España como profesor de inglés.

Una cosa importante para mí es enfatizar que al ser australiano, a diferencia de británico o norteamericano, creo que aporto una perspectiva diferente sobre la historia y la cultura española. Vengo del «sur», del Pacífico y de una colonia europea: todo esto influye en mi manera de entender España y su lugar en el mundo. Ninguna parte de Australia fue colonizada por España (aunque podría haberlo sido), ni Australia ha tenido ningún conflicto con España. En ese sentido, no tenemos «historial», ni «equipaje» como países asociados. La gente a menudo habla de la similitud (hasta cierto punto, no debería ser exagerada) de carácter entre australianos y españoles, de gente muy amistosa y, debo decir, una reputación de tener una actitud desafiante ante la autoridad, que es principalmente una fachada y no una realidad. Ciertamente, existe la determinación en ambos países de disfrutar la vida y llenarla con el mayor placer posible, aunque los australianos son más conservadores socialmente.

-Durante siglos, la relación de España con Australia parece haber sido la historia de una frustración: ni los barcos de la aventura imperial ni los de las expediciones científicas encontrarían acomodo permanente en sus costas. A la vez, ese también parece ser el caso de Australia con España: inevitable pensar en ese verso de Ted Hughes a Sylvia Plath, en el que le dice que en su escuela nunca le hablaron de España…

En Australia, España siempre ha sido descuidada como tema de estudio. Esto se debió durante muchos años a la imitación australiana de la educación británica con todos sus prejuicios culturales y geopolíticos. En las últimas cuatro décadas nos hemos alejado de la órbita imperial británica y Australia se ha posicionado conscientemente como una potencia regional de Asia. Para ser un país «anglófono», hay un nivel muy alto de «alfabetización de Asia» en Australia. Dicho esto, salimos del paraguas británico para convertirnos en un aliado fiel y algo servil de EEUU, cuya cultura ha llegado a abrumar a la nuestra.

España es un destino turístico popular, aunque me desespera la cantidad de australianos que creen que visitar Barcelona y San Sebastián constituye «visitar España». Muy pocos aprovechan la oportunidad para explorar aquellas regiones que para mí son lo más destacado: Madrid; los pueblos de Zamora, Soria y Segovia; el Maestrazgo, las colinas de Jaén, la Tierra de Campos, sin olvidar los caminos de Toledo y Ciudad Real, a través del territorio del Quijote …

Madrid es un caso interesante en este punto. Siempre me han fascinado aquellos extranjeros a los que no les gusta. Para mí, Madrid es una concentración de tantas líneas de influencia histórica, cultural y política que es indispensable como punto de referencia. Por eso he tratado de comparar en mi libro momentos de la historia de Madrid con Australia. Ahí están los navegantes que, en época de Felipe III, reclaman atención para esa tierra, sin que les hagan caso. O cómo Carlos III muere en 1788, justo cuando los británicos fundaban lo que hoy es Sidney. Para mí, estas no son simplemente coincidencias; son líneas paralelas que fluyen a través de la historia, que no necesariamente se tocan en ningún punto, pero que de alguna manera influyen entre sí. Es por eso que sentí que las historias entrelazadas de Australia y España eran una gran historia no contada.

El poema de Ted Hughes que cita usted es un ejemplo clásico de esa interpretación de España a mediados del siglo XX desde el Atlántico Norte. Una España en blanco y negro, de clichés de la época franquista y esencialismo orientalista, que ha envejecido mucho. Esto, si me lo permiten, es la opinión de España que muchos australianos no tienen, porque no tenemos esos siglos de comparación cultural (y, a veces, de condescendencia). En The beautiful obscure no he mencionado el fútbol o las corridas de toros y muy pocas menciones al flamenco. Esto no se debe a que no aprecio y disfruto la singularidad cultural de cómo se realizan estas cosas en España, sino a que quería escribir un libro que evitara los comentarios habituales de las publicaciones.

Por cierto, y a propósito de la cuestión de la leyenda negra: al tratar de evitar los clichés anteriores, es innegable, al menos en mis lecturas culturales y políticas, apreciar un cierto tono despectivo hacia España que creo que atraviesa mucho pensamiento anglófono. Pero decirlo es invitar a la controversia. Uno puede creer que España fue maltratada por quienes la siguieron y que escribieron sus propias versiones de la historia como los «vencedores culturales», cuya influencia se extiende tanto en nuestro mundo contemporáneo. Uno puede apreciar esto y lo entiendo, sin caer en las teorías de la conspiración franquista de que un complot masónico y comunista en todo el mundo estaba tratando de destruir España. Pero he visto, con los recientes debates en torno a Roca Barea, que marcar la leyenda negra como algo real, puede etiquetarte como reaccionario, como franquista, lo cual me parece absurdo.

-¿Cómo expresar un amor por la cultura española e invitar a otros a sumergirse en ella, sin que tengan el acceso que ofrece el idioma?

A veces, la literatura y la música popular pueden ser de más difícil acceso para los extranjeros. Por esta razón, en mi libro y fuera, profundizo en el mundo del arte como un lenguaje más universal. Además de maestros obvios como Goya y Velázquez, quería que la gente conociera a algunos de mis pintores favoritos: Zurbarán, Sorolla y Zuloaga. Me cuentan mucho sobre España, y luego específicamente sobre el catolicismo, o Valencia, o Castilla. También quería expresar algunas opiniones «controvertidas»: nunca me ha gustado mucho el arte de Dalí, o de Picasso, o de Gaudí. Siempre he preferido Ribera a Velázquez. Estos son solo gustos personales. Otros favoritos son Juan de Juanes, Luis Morales, Alonso Cano, los románticos del siglo XIX y los pintores de la historia … Y quizás por encima de todos ellos, para mí, está El Greco. En verdad, el más grande.

Para mí, esta concentración en lo que es en gran medida, aunque no exclusivamente, arte religioso, es deliberada. Vivimos en una época en que la Iglesia Católica ha sufrido un enorme daño de reputación; en Australia esto es muy pronunciado. Destaco en el libro que defender el catolicismo es difícil de vender hoy en una sociedad secular y en muchos sentidos enojada. Sin embargo, existe (para alguien criado en los anglicanos como yo) una clara distinción entre la Iglesia católica como institución y el catolicismo en sí mismo, como un sistema de creencias que ha sido la fuerza motriz o la inspiración de gran parte del arte y la poesía más importantes de los últimos 500 o más años. Es este elemento del catolicismo lo que deseo celebrar; es un juicio estético, no moral.

En España también tenemos nuestros clichés sobre Australia.

Cuando viví en España por primera vez, la ignorancia de Australia era casi total, y lo mismo era cierto en Australia con respecto a España. A finales de los años 80, el cliché de ‘Crocodile Dundee’ fue algo con lo que, como todos los australianos en el extranjero, tuve que vivir mucho tiempo. Con los años, esta situación ha cambiado drásticamente, pero Australia sigue siendo algo desconocido. Internet pone a la vista todo el mundo, pero todavía hay preguntas sobre la naturaleza de Australia: ¿Cómo de grande es realmente? ¿Hay tantos animales e insectos peligrosos? ¿Sigue siendo una colonia británica? ¿Cómo es de asiático? Creo que mucha gente está sorprendida por lo multicultural que es Australia y la gran diversidad de nuestra población.

Otro factor importante para superar la ignorancia ha ocurrido en la última década: por un lado, cada vez más jóvenes australianos hacen en España una parte esencial de sus viajes internacionales; mientras que después de la crisis financiera de 2008, miles de jóvenes españoles, sobre todo profesionales altamente calificados, encontraron oportunidades de trabajo en Australia. Esto fue una especie de «fuga de cerebros» para España, pero Australia se ha beneficiado enormemente. Los españoles a menudo se encuentran entre los principales científicos e investigadores en Australia en la actualidad.

-Australia y España afrontaron una cuestión similar: qué hacer con las poblaciones originarias.

Si, absolutamente. Pero con al menos dos diferencias: en primer lugar, en Australia este problema todavía está con nosotros, a pesar del enorme progreso que se ha logrado. De hecho, muchas personas argumentarían (y yo estaría de acuerdo) que el largo y lento proceso de reconciliación con la población indígena sigue siendo el mayor desafío de Australia como nación. En segundo lugar, en Australia, la presencia indígena no forma parte de un «imperio de ultramar», sino que forma parte del tejido cotidiano de nuestra nación. De hecho, el desarrollo de Australia, tal como lo conocemos, sólo fue posible gracias al desplazamiento de la cultura indígena.

Siempre he creído que una colonización española de Australia, sin ser ni mejor ni peor, habría tenido resultados diferentes para la población indígena. Hubiera habido más matrimonios mixtos y un esfuerzo significativamente mayor para registrar y preservar algunos de los aproximadamente 200 idiomas que existían aquí antes de la colonización, la gran mayoría de los cuales se han perdido.

El arte, al que tantas páginas dedica en su libro, parece habernos aproximado, más allá de los estudios sobre Goya de Robert Hughes, hasta ahora “el” hispanista australiano…

Es interesante: creo que su libro sobre Goya fue uno de los mejores, mientras que su libro sobre Barcelona fue uno de los más débiles: fuera de sus áreas de especialización de arte y modernismo, en realidad no daba la sensación de haber «vivido» Barcelona. En todo caso, yo invitaría a los españoles a explorar el arte australiano, que es tan diverso como el propio país. Aunque a menudo ha seguido las tendencias europeas y norteamericanas, sin embargo, también ha traído un magnífico grupo de artistas al escenario mundial. También tiene una creciente importancia para muchos australianos, de todos los orígenes, el mundo diverso, original y profundo del arte indígena.

-Cerramos. Han sido 35 años desde que se encontró con España…

Lo digo en mi libro. Tantos años sumergiéndome en el universo español han resultado enriquecedores en más formas de las que puedo contar, pero sobre todo, hay algo más que me resulta difícil de definir, aunque que sé que es cierto. Me ha hecho una mejor persona. Esto tal vez sea cierto para todos los que aprendemos a vivir en dos culturas y dos idiomas: nos hacemos personas más sabias, más tolerantes y, espero, más compasivas. Por esto, siempre digo, y lo creo sinceramente, que estoy en deuda con los españoles.

Luke Stegemann: «In Spain I discovered a Europe I had never been told about»

Luke Stegemann was born in Brisbane and raised in Queensland, southern New South Wales and the ACT. After first visiting Spain in 1984, he later spent long periods living in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.

Stegemann has worked in media, publishing and higher education, and as a Spanish-English translator, in both Australia and Spain. He was formerly the managing editor of ‘The Adelaide Review’, and the founding editor of ‘The Melbourne Review’.

Stegemann has written widely on Spanish art, history, culture and politics, and now lives and works in rural south-east Queensland. He continues to spend time each year in Spain. He has recently published The Beautiful Obscure, a remarkable work which analyses aspects of Spanish cultural influence from an Australian viewpoint.

In this conversation, Stegemann talks about synergies and divergences between both countries with past, present and future perspectives, all seen within the framework of his own love of both countries.

-In The Beautiful Obscure, the discovery and the experience of Spain from your Australian background comes together with your reflection on the historical similarities, encounters and distances between both countries. The question is obvious: what attracts an Australian to Spain, back in the 80s?

In some respects it was fortuitous. Travelling around what was then ‘western’ Europe in the year after completing my first university degree, I had not planned to spend more than a few days in the north of Spain. Yet once inside the country, I felt an immediate attraction – unlike anything I felt, for example, in Greece, or Italy, France or Germany – and a planned two-three days became one month as I travelled ever deeper into the country. And this was 1984 – a Spain that has in many respects completely disappeared now. What I felt strongest – and I discuss this in some detail in the book – was a sense of discovering a Europe I had never been told about. It was as if an entire section of the continent, whose history I thought I had studied, had been hidden.

So the attraction was to the unknown, but it was not as simple as the classic ‘orientalising’ experience of ‘the exotic’. It was clear straight away that this was part of my own cultural heritage, part of the story of the continent of my ancestors. I immediately thought, “How did I not know this?” and then, “How can I live here?” When I returned to Australia and explained my plan to return to live in Spain as soon as possible – something I had never considered until then – my family and friends had no idea what I was talking about. Spain had not yet joined the EU, and was debating its entry into NATO. Two years later, and having armed myself with a second degree – this time in education – I returned to work initially as an English teacher. So began, with life in Spain in 1987, what has become the most significant chapter and influence on my adult life.

One thing that is important for me is to emphasise that being Australian – as opposed to British or North American – I believe I bring a different perspective on Spanish history and culture. I come from ‘the south’, from the Pacific and from a European colony: all of these influence my manner of understanding Spain and its place in the world. No part of Australia was ever colonised by Spain (though it might have been), nor has Australia ever had any conflicts with Spain. In that sense, we have no ‘history’, no ‘baggage’ as companion countries. People often remark on the similarity (to some extent – it shouldn’t be exaggerated) of character between Australians and Spaniards, an open friendliness and, I must say, a reputation for having a defiant attitude to authority, which is mostly façade and not a reality! Certainly there is a determination in both countries to enjoy life, and fill it with as much pleasure as possible, albeit Australians are more socially conservative.

-For centuries, Spain’s relationship with Australia seems to have been a story of frustration: despite maintaining a presence in the Pacific, neither the ships of the imperial adventure nor those of the scientific expeditions would find permanent accommodation on its coasts. Even in diplomatic and commercial terms, not a few opportunities were lost … «Your schooling had somehow neglected Spain,», said British Ted Hughes in a poem to his wife, the also poet, but American, Sylvia Plath. Has that also been the case in Australia? Are cliches the best allies of ignorance?

In Australia, Spain has always been neglected as a subject of political and historical study. Firstly, this was due for many years to Australia’s imitation of British education with all its cultural and geopolitical prejudices; latterly because, having removed ourselves from the British imperial orbit, over the past four decades Australia has consciously positioned itself as a regional Asian power. For an ‘Anglo’ country, there is a very high level of ‘Asia literacy’ in Australia. Having said that, we stepped out from under the British umbrella to become a faithful, and somewhat subservient, ally of the Americans, whose culture has come to swamp so much of our own.

Spain is a popular tourist destination, though I despair of the number of Australians who believe that visiting Barcelona and San Sebastian constitutes ‘visiting Spain’. Time pressures weigh on tourists, of course, but so few take the opportunity to explore those regions that for me are a highlight of Spain: Madrid; the villages of Zamora, Soria and Segovia; the Maestrazgo; the hills of Jaen, the Tierra de Campos, and not forgetting the backroads of Toledo and Ciudad Real, through deepest Quixote territory…

Madrid is an interesting case in point. I’ve always been fascinated by those foreigners who dislike Madrid, and express a strong preference for Barcelona, or even Valencia or San Sebastian. For me, Madrid is such a concentration of so many historical, cultural and political lines of influence, it is indispensable as a reference point. This is why I have looked to compare moments from the history of Madrid with Australia: two examples are those navigators, returned from the Pacific, spending years begging at the court of Phillip III for funds to return to discover what they sense is still there, and never quite making it… or Carlos III and the building of the Puerta de Alcalá: it arose in the very same years as the British were planning their penal colony at the bottom of the world, and of course the death of Carlos III in 1788, the same year the British founded Port Jackson, now Sydney.

For me these are not simply coincidences; they are parallel lines that flow through history, not necessarily touching at any point, but somehow bearing an influence on each other. This is why I felt the interweaving histories of Australia and Spain was a great, untold story.

But it is also interesting to consider the Ted Hughes poem you quote. For me it is a classic example of that mid-century north-Atlantic interpretation of Spain. A black and white Spain of Franco-era clichés and orientalist essentialising, that has aged badly. This, if you’ll permit me, is the view of Spain many Australians do not have, for we do not have those centuries of cultural comparison (and at times, of condescension). You’ll have noticed that in a 435 page book about Spain, I have made no mention of football, or bullfighting, very little mention of ‘blood and death’, and only very few mentions of flamenco. This is not because I do not appreciate and enjoy the cultural uniqueness of how these things are performed in Spain (in particular, the cante jondo tradition of flamenco) but I wanted to write a book that avoided all the usual staging posts for commentary on Spain.

(Incidentally, the question of the leyenda negra: while trying to avoid the above clichés, it is undeniable, at least in my cultural and political readings, of a certain dismissive tone towards Spain that I think runs through a lot of Anglo thinking. But to say so is to invite controversy. One can believe that Spain has been poorly treated by those who came after her, and who wrote their own versions of history as the ‘cultural victors’ whose influence extends so much into our contemporary world; you can see this, and understand it, without falling into Franco-like conspiracy theories, that a worldwide masonic and communist plot was out to destroy Spain. But I’ve seen, with the recent debates around Roca Barea, that to flag up the leyenda negra as something real, can get you tagged as reactionary, as Francoist…!)

One other obvious question in writing this book: how to express a love for Spanish culture, and invite others to immerse themselves in it, without them having the access afforded by the language? (Because no matter how much we can translate, ‘love’ and ‘amor’ are not the same thing; ‘evening’ and ‘atardecer’ are not the same… they all carry the weight of their own cultural heritage, and to say one thing, is not the same as to say the other! I have recently been doing some short translations of the poetry of Miguel Hernández into English, and it is enormously difficult to convey the sense of his words… the meaning, maybe, but the sense, the feeling… almost impossible!!) This is why I have made little mention of two of the greatest aspects of Spanish culture – its literature and its popular music – as they are difficult to access properly for foreigners. For this reason, I go in depth into the world of art, as a more universal language. Apart from the obvious masters Goya and Velázquez, I wanted people to know some of my favourite painters: Zurburán, Sorolla and Zuloaga. They tell me so much about Spain, and then specifically about Catholicism, or Valencia, or Castile. I also wanted to float a few ‘controversial’ opinions: I have never really liked the art of Dalí, or much of Picasso, or Gaudí. I have always preferred Ribera to Velázquez. These are just personal tastes. Other Spanish favourites are Juan de Juanes, Pedro Orrente, Luis Morales, Alonso Cano, the nineteenth century romantics and history painters… And perhaps above them all, for me, is El Greco. Truly, the greatest.

(And how often would I visit the Prado and find a room full of people crowding around Hieronymus Bosch – which is normal – but completely ignoring that singular masterpiece, on the opposite wall, which is Patinir’s vision of Charon crossing the Styx!)

For me this concentration on what is largely, though not exclusively, religious art, is deliberate. We live in a time where the Catholic Church has suffered enormous reputational damage; in Australia this is very pronounced. I make the point in the book that to defend Catholicism is a hard sell nowadays in a secular and in many ways angry society. However there is (for someone raised Anglican like myself) a clear distinction between the Catholic Church as an institution, and Catholicism itself as a belief system which has been the driving force, or inspiration, for much of the greatest art and poetry of the last 500 or more years. It is this element of Catholicism I wish to celebrate; it is an aesthetic judgment, not a moral one.

Luke Stegemann

– It is true that the first city in the world to dedicate a street to AC / DC was Spanish … but the lack of knowledge between the two countries seems to have been a shared passion: in Spain we also have our cliches about Australia.

When I first lived in Spain the ignorance of Australia was almost total – and the same was true in Australia as regards Spain. I confess in the book how, as a young boy, I thought Seville was an Italian city… In the late 80s, when I was living in Madrid, the cliché of ‘Crocodile Dundee’ took over – something which all Australians abroad had to live with for far too long! Over the years, this situation has changed dramatically, but Australia remains something of an unknown. The internet brings the whole world into view, but there are still questions about the nature of Australia: just how big is it really? Are there so many dangerous animals and insects? Is it still a British colony? How Asian is it? I think a lot of people are surprised by just how multicultural Australia is; the huge diversity of our population.

Another significant factor in overcoming this ignorance has occurred over the past decade: on the one hand, more and more young Australians make Spain an essential part of their international travels; while after the 2008 financial crisis, thousands of young Spaniards – above all highly skilled professionals – found work opportunities in Australia. This was something of a ‘brain drain’ for Spain, but Australia has benefitted enormously. Spaniards can often be found among the leading scientists and researchers in Australia today. Additionally, there are community networks of young Spanish people that simply did not exist 25 years ago.

-Australia and Spain, even at different times, faced a similar question: what to do with the native populations, already in Australia, already in Spanish America …

Yes, absolutely. But with at least two differences: firstly, in Australia this problem is still with us, despite the huge progress that has been made. In fact, many people would argue (and I would tend to agree) that the long, slow process of reconciliation with the Indigenous population remains Australia’s greatest challenge as a nation. Secondly, in Australia the Indigenous presence is not part of an ‘overseas empire’ but forms part of the daily fabric of our nation. In fact, the development of Australia, as we know it, was only made possible by the displacement of the Indigenous culture, with not just the major loss of life but also the profound cultural loss of languages and knowledge of the land and its uses.

While historical ‘what might have beens’ are of little practical use, I have always believed a Spanish colonisation of Australia, without being either better or worse, would have had different outcomes for the Indigenous population. There would have been significantly greater intermarriage, and a significantly greater effort made to record and preserve some of the approximately 200 languages that existed here prior to colonisation, the great majority of which have been lost. And of course, Spain would have colonised Australia around two centuries before the British, so European Australia would now be a country of some 400+ years, like the US, rather than around 230 years.

-The link or bilateral knowledge is surely more intense after the Civil War, in which there were Australians of both sexes. But also the art, to which you dedicate so many pages in his book, seems to have brought us closer, beyond Ted Hughes’ studies on Goya, until now “the” Australian Hispanicist…

Firstly a small correction – I think you mean Robert Hughes in this case! It is interesting – I think his book on Goya was one of his finest, while I thought his book on Barcelona was one of his weakest (partly because it was really a book about Catalan modernism, which is fine, but Barcelona is much more than that; I thought it was obvious that outside of his specialist areas of art and modernism, he didn’t really give a sense of having ‘lived’ Barcelona. In fact, it felt very much as though research assistants had done most of the work. I couldn’t smell Barcelona, or hear her breathing in this book…)

Perhaps what I’ve said in the above paragraphs about art is sufficient. I would invite Spaniards, however, to explore Australian art, which is as diverse as the country itself. While Australian art has often followed European and North American trends, it has nevertheless brought a magnificent stable of artists onto the world stage. And also, of increasing importance to many Australians, of all backgrounds, is the diverse, original and profound world of Indigenous art. It represents, as much as anything, the triumph of the survival of our Indigenous peoples, and allows the non-Indigenous person a glimpse into their representations of ceremony, law, and the origins and nature of the world.

A final comment: I’ve said this in the book, and say it also whenever I talk about the book. Having spent 35+ years immersing myself into the Spanish universe has been enriching in more ways than I can recount, but above all, there is something else that I find hard to define, but which I know is true. It has made me a better person. This is perhaps true of all of us who learn to live across two cultures and two languages: we find ourselves wiser, more tolerant and, I hope, more compassionate persons. For this, I always say, and sincerely believe, that I am in debt to the Spanish people.

“By the age of 14 I had travelled the breadth of Spain from Santander to Jerez”

This week, we continue a series of interviews with personalities from the Spanish-British sphere. Our sixth guest, Tim Willcox, is a famous British journalist and Chief Presenter for BBC World News.

Willcox is probably one of the most recognisable presenters on BBC and is a regular face covering some of the major international events. He has anchored live on air include the death of Slobodan Milosevic, Kashmir earthquake, July 7 bombings, Boxing Day Tsunami and Beslan school siege. He is probably most recognisable for presenting the BBC’s live coverage from Chile during events surrounding the Copiapó mining accident and anchoring the BBC’s live daytime coverage during the early days of the Cairo January 2011 Egyptian revolution.

Willcox read Spanish at Durham University and is a passionate Hispanophile who has travelled widely in Spain and South America. He says to those who would like to learn it: «Do! Go for it. Fantastic people, food and culture!»

–       How is life in the newsroom under the current global pandemic?

The BBC studios are at New Broadcasting House, Langham Place W1A 1AA (as in the hideously accurate comedy series of the same name). With 6 TV studios , 36 radio studios, 60 Edit and Graphics suites it is the largest broadcast centre in the world, and the biggest newsroom in Europe. Usually it is heaving with journalists and producers, cramming the meeting rooms, canteens and communal areas, and queueing for the big glass lifts that shoot between floors. Since lockdown the newsroom is practically empty, and run by a skeleton staff. Social distancing tape stripes the floor, and areas are blocked off as if one were working in a gigantic urban maze. Staircases are now designated Up or Down, and only one person is allowed to use the lifts. Many people are now working from home – less easy if you’re presenting TV bulletins. Everything has changed on that front as well. Presenters now do their own make-up, the studio cameras are automated, and guests are interviewed ‘down the line’ by Skype or Facetime.  The brave new world.

– Most of us watched your live coverage of the rescue of the Chilean miners. How do you remember that coverage?

Vividly. Even 10 years later. And for many reasons. I wasn’t the first choice to go. I got a rushed call from my Editor while having a lunchtime swim in London. Did I speak Spanish? Could I get the next flight to Chile  – another presenter had pulled out – to cover what was shaping up to be an extraordinary race against time? My producer and I landed in Santiago the next day to discover that our satellite dish and other key equipment had been diverted to Buenos Aires. So we took the connecting flight to Copiapo – with no luggage except  a small camera. On board I noticed an empty seat by the Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne and grabbed it. He was the man in charge of the rescue operation and was to become the most popular politician in Chile.

When we arrived at the San Jose Copper and Gold mine it was dawn in a heavy Camanchaca (freezing mist). A few tents containing some shivering relations of some of the miners were huddled near the mine’s entrance. Fires were being lit, and tea boiled. We were some of the first journalists there. Over the days and weeks we chatted and filmed – sometimes in my broken Spanish (which often caused guffaws of laughter when I used a word in Castellano that had a much saltier meaning in Chilean slang.) These  families, wives and girlfriends grew to trust us, and told their remarkable stories. As did the rescue drilling teams and the politicians. There was no certainty that all the miners would survive. They and we knew that. There was constant fear that at any moment some or all of the men might die.

This huddle of tents and people grew voraciously into Camp Hope with its own canteen and school.  The San Jose mine and the small town of Copiapo was to be their and our home for many weeks.

Within a fortnight the world’s media had descended. Car parks for hundreds of press mobile homes were bulldozed out of the rock. The Chilean authorities had erected large screens to show the whole rescue operation involving the tiny Fenix rescue capsule that would winch them 700 metres to safety. It started just before midnight and the most moving moment for me was watching the first man out Florencio Avalos.  His young son was standing with his mother near President Pinera. As the Fenix capsule broke the surface, he wept and howled with emotion as he caught sight of his father for the first time in 69 days.  Everyone cried that day – even journalists going live on air.

–       Which other coverage has been important for you?

Every story has been important for numerous reasons. Rwanda for the sheer barbarity and horror of what had happened combined with the stoicism of its people. The Palestinian Intifada for the palpable rage in the West Bank and Gaza. The death of Diana for the sense of national and international shock that consumed so many millions of us at the time. Cities like Baghdad I remember for the internally bombed out buildings still standing like the cardboard tubes of used fireworks, and New York obviously for 9/11. These stories, like the Arab Spring coverage in Egypt and Libya, and the revolution in Ukraine, the tsunami in Japan and typhoons in the Philippines, plus all the  hideous terror attacks around the world are also seared into my memory for the sense of physical exhaustion associated with live TV coverage. There aren’t many hotels still standing after natural disasters.

–       You studied Spanish at University and became fluent. How was the learning process? Who were your Professors?

Fluent? Ojala…My love of Spain began at school and an inspirational teacher who arranged cultural / hedonistic trips. By the age of 14 I had run in the San Fermin bull festival, and travelled the breadth of Spain from Santander to Jerez. I had also listened to a lot of Albeniz, Falla and Granados. My favourite book at the time was Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning about his journey through Spain. In my year off between school and university I retraced his journey, busking with my trumpet, and walking and hitching my way from north to south. Laurie Lee ended up near Algeciras. I completed my journey in Jerez de la Frontera where I found a temporary job as a guide at Sandeman Bodegas. At Durham university I was not a diligent student – for which I still feel shame  – but I did put on productions, including Lorca’s Yerma in Spanish, and somehow get a degree. Largely thanks to the brilliant and charismatic teaching of Professor MacPherson, and Drs Dan Rodgers, Suso Ruiz and Chris Perriam who gave me a passion for Golden Age drama.

–       How important is being fluent in Spanish for your journalism?

As explained it is hardly fluent. But it is useful to be able to communicate with people in their own language, and to understand their culture and national identity. It allows me to share and hopefully relate to the viewers what the characters in the story are really feeling about the events they are caught up in.

– Can you share a memory of your last news coverage in Spain?

The last story I covered in Spain was the general election. But I had been going backwards and forwards before that to Barcelona to cover the Catalan crisis. My vivid memory of that time were the huge rallies taking over the city and the drama of the declaration of independence. Sometimes we rented the large roof terrace of a stunning apartment on the Passeig de Gracia to get the best panoramic live position. Guests  – both pro and anti independence were brought up to me to be interviewed. And the debates continued long after we came off air – as each side refused to change their positions.

–       What would you say to someone who is thinking about learning Spanish?

Do. Go for it. Fantastic people, food and culture. And a language spoken all over the world which often opens doors. I remember meeting the Spanish Ambassador in Baghdad and after chatting away in Castellano was invited to lunch. He had the only supply of La Ina in Iraq.

– What are your favourite Spanish dishes and restaurants?

I’m basically an omnivore.

In Madrid the wonderful Ordago Restaurant near Las Ventas, also LaKasa (brilliant) and Carlos Tertiere for the best tapas and service.

In Segovia cochinillo of course at Jose Maria. Cordero asado in Pedraza always with Pedro at El Soportal.

In Barcelona  – Can Colleretes. In Cadaques Compartir – for frogs legs and apple sauce. Jerez – La Tasa and Bar Juanito.

In London  – it has to be Javier’s Hispania. Everything you can dream of and more….

Instituto Cervantes in London celebrates World Book Day with the reading of ‘10 Poems of Love and A Confined Song’

Instituto Cervantes in London joins the World Book Day celebrations with a reading of ’10 Poems of Love and A Confined Song’ by founder and Artistic Director of the Cervantes Theatre, Jorge de Juan. He will be joined by singer María de Juan and the event joins the list of celebrations for the 2020 Cervantine Week. It will be a week of multiple online initiatives based on all aspects of culture from books, libraries and bookstores to the publishing world, and it is open to everyone to join in and celebrate.

Having just released their new album ‘24/7’, Jorge de Juan and María de Juan come together tonight from their current locations of London and Granada, respectively. Jorge will read poems by Alfonsina Storni, Pablo Neruda, Carmen Conde, Joan Margarit and Luis García Montero among others, whilst María will sing a poem by Mario Benedetti accompanied (from Seville), by Andrés Barrios – pianist and composer who fuses world music in combination, such as flamenco and jazz. In addition, the video transmission will include photos of the journalist Jorge Pastor Sánchez, taken in Granada under the state of alarm in March 2020. The Cervantes Theatre, in collaboration with the Instituto Cervantes in London, hosts this soirée as a message of love and unity during this global pandemic.

The director of Instituto Cervantes in London, Ignacio Peyró, underlined the importance of celebrating World Book Day and Sant Jordi: “Normally on a day like today, we would be giving roses and books at our centre and celebrating reading, literature and ‘The Quixote’. This year is different, but we have made an extraordinary effort so that, although they are not face-to-face and even though they are more modest this year, our cultural activities continue to have variety and quality. In other words, they offer new, relevant and curated content by us”.

2020 Cervantine Week 

Instituto Cervantes offers multiple cultural initiatives open to the public in the framework of the celebration of World Book Day, today April 23rd. With meetings with writers such as Lorenzo Silva, Elvira Lindo and Isabel Coixet, free audiobooks, the opinions and talks of more than 70 outstanding professionals in the world of culture and readings of passages from ‘Don Quixote’, among others.

The range of online projects offered today is epitomised by the verse title of the 2019 Cervantes Award winner, Joan Margarit: ‘Freedom is a bookstore’. The Cervantine Week aims to bring home, at this stage of confinement, the best of our book culture as well as promote reading and the celebration of authors, publishers and booksellers.

Even though the Instituto Cervantes in London was forced to close in response to the British government guidelines on COVID-19, our mission and cultural programmes continue online.

The Best Spanish Short Films with CinemaAttic 

Every Monday, CinemaAttic and Instituto Cervantes in London, Manchester and Leeds share a weekly programme of ‘Seven Essential Short Films of the Last Decade of Spanish Cinema’. The whole thing is entirely free and accessible with English subtitles. The program is available until Sunday on both the CinemaAttic website and the Facebook event where you can also vote for your favourite shorts and comment. In addition, every Sunday at 1pm, we end the week together with ‘A Vermouth with CinemaAttic’: an online event on Facebook where a selection of the short films’ directors are interviewed.

Visual Arts: Amalgama 2020 Program

Amalgama is the first cultural initiative dedicated to promoting the work of Ibero-American female artists in the United Kingdom and will run from April to June. Amalgama, in collaboration with Instituto Cervantes in London, proposes a series of videos to present its 2020-2021 programme.  

Amalgama aims to strengthen the relationship between the British public and the international art scene regarding the work of female artists from Latin America, Spain and Portugal. This year’s programme will include two exhibitions (a group show and a solo exhibition) displaying the artists’ research on the tension between nature and culture in the digital age. 

The exhibitions include 15 artists, ranging from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Spain, Portugal and Venezuela. Each artist included in the final product was specially selected from the 190 applicants in an open call. For the second show, Amalgama will present the work of renowned Colombian artist Maria Elvira Escallon who was nominated for the Luis Caballero Prize in 2019.

Spanish Cinema Snippets with Joana Granero

Also available are a series of short introductions to Spanish cinema. They include presentations across a wide array of subjects, hosted by Joana Granero, Director and Founder of the London Spanish Film Festival. Each one focuses on a specific new or archival film on the work and career of leading names in Spanish cinema as well as artistic movements and schools.

In session one, Granero talks about José Luis Cuerda; filmmaker, screenwriter and producer. In session two, she will talk about a successful case: ESCAC. ESCAC, Escola Superior de Cinema i Audiovisuals de Catalunya, where teamwork and crossing barriers are primary guidelines. They have produced some of the most interesting and fresh productions over the last few years.

Literary podcasts with The Eye of Hispanic American Culture

April’s literary podcasts are produced by The Eye of Hispanic American Culture and led by Enrique Záttara who is responsible for the project. They include central figures such as the Spanish poet, professor and director of Instituto Cervantes, Luis García Montero and the Argentine novelist Mariana Enríquez.

The Eye of Hispanic American Culture is a multimedia, international and bilingual cultural project, based in London. Its objective is to promote the Hispanic-American culture residing in Europe and across the globe by connecting and informing artists, writers and intellectuals. 

Great Spanish and Ibero-American composers season 

Additionally, the Iberian & Latin American Music Society (ILAMS) and Instituto Cervantes in London present a series of podcasts which bring the life and work of the most representative Spanish and Ibero-American composers to life. The podcasts are released on a monthly basis and celebrate the rich musical tradition of our countries. 

Ray Picot, concert reviewer at ILAMS and writer of a popular monthly column for Echoes Magazine, will focus on the masterpieces of Enrique Granados, who was one of a triumvirate of great Spanish composers to achieve international acclaim during the early 20th century.

El Instituto Cervantes de Londres celebra el Día del Libro con la lectura de ‘10 poemas de amor y una canción confinada’

El Instituto Cervantes de Londres se suma a las celebraciones del Día Internacional del Libro con una lectura de ‘10 Poemas de amor y una canción confinada’, a cargo del fundador y Director Artístico del Cervantes Theatre, Jorge de Juan, y la cantante María de Juan, que se engloban dentro de La Semana Cervantina 2020, con numerosas iniciativas culturales por internet relacionadas con el libro, las bibliotecas, las librerías y el mundo editorial, abiertas a la participación de todos. 

Jorge de Juan y María de Juan, que acaba de publicar su disco 24/7, se unen en la distancia, desde Londres y Granada, respectivamente; él leyendo poemas de Alfonsina Storni, Pablo Neruda, Carmen Conde, Joan Margarit y Luis García Montero, entre otros, y ella cantando un poema de Mario Benedetti acompañada desde Sevilla, por Andrés Barrios, pianista y compositor que fusiona músicas del mundo, como el flamenco y el jazz. Además, el vídeo incluye fotos cedidas por el periodista Jorge Pastor Sánchez, tomadas en Granada bajo el estado de alarma, en marzo de 2020. Es una velada propuesta por el Cervantes Theatre de Londres, en colaboración con el Instituto Cervantes Londres, un mensaje de amor en los tiempos del virus.

El director del Instituto Cervantes de Londres, Ignacio Peyró, destacó la importancia de la celebración del Día del Libro y de Sant Jordi: “Normalmente un día como hoy estaríamos repartiendo rosas y libros en el centro y celebrando la lectura, la literatura y ‘El Quijote’. Este año es distinto, pero hemos hecho un esfuerzo extraordinario, para que, aunque no sean presenciales y aunque sean más modestas, nuestras actividades culturales sigan teniendo variedad y calidad. Es decir, que ofrezcan contenidos novedosos, relevantes y curados por nosotros mismos”.

Semana Cervantina 2020

El Instituto Cervantes ofrece múltiples iniciativas culturales abiertas a la participación en el marco de la celebración del Día Internacional del Libro, hoy 23 de abril, con encuentros con escritores como Lorenzo Silva, Elvira Lindo e Isabel Coixet, audiolibros gratuitos, opiniones de más de 70 profesionales destacados de la cultura y lecturas de pasajes del Quijote, entre otros.

Este abanico de proyectos en línea en el marco del Día Internacional del Libro y englobados bajo el lema general La libertad es una librería, título de un verso del último premio Cervantes, Joan Margarit. La Semana Cervantina pretende acercar a los hogares, en esta etapa de confinamiento, la mejor cultura del libro, contribuir al fomento de la lectura y promocionar a autores, editores y libreros.

Desde el cierre del Instituto Cervantes de Londres, en respuesta a la alerta sanitaria provocada por el coronavirus COVID-19 y siguiendo las directrices de las autoridades británicas y españolas, el programa cultural del centro ha pasado a ser en línea. 

Los mejores cortometrajes con CinemaAttic

Cada lunes, CinemaAttic y los Institutos Cervantes de Londres, Mánchester y Leeds comparten un programa semanal con ‘Siete Cortometrajes Básicos de la Historia Moderna del Cine Español’, en abierto y con subtítulos en inglés. El programa está disponible hasta el domingo en la web de CinemaAttic y en el evento de Facebook donde también se puede votar por vuestros cortos favoritos y comentar de manera interactiva. ️Además, todos los domingos a la 1pm, terminamos la semana juntos con ‘Un Vermut con CinemaAttic’, evento online en Facebook donde se entrevistará a algunos de los directores de las películas. 

Artes Visuales: Programa Amalgama 2020

A lo largo de los meses de abril, mayo y junio, Amalgama, la primera iniciativa cultural dedicada a promover el trabajo de mujeres artistas iberoamericanas en el Reino Unido, con la colaboración del Instituto Cervantes de Londres, propone un ciclo de vídeos de presentación del programa Amalgama 2020-2021.

El programa de Amalgama tiene como objetivo fortalecer la relación del público británico y la escena artística internacional por el trabajo de mujeres artistas de América Latina, España y Portugal. El programa de este año comprenderá dos exposiciones, una colectiva y otra individual, en las que las artistas analizarán la tensión entre la naturaleza, la cultura y los cuerpos en la era digital.

La exposición colectiva contará con el trabajo de 15 artistas de Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, España, Portugal y Venezuela, seleccionadas de las 190 candidaturas recibidas en esta primera convocatoria. La exposición individual estará dedicada a la obra de la reconocida artista colombiana María Elvira Escalón, recientemente seleccionada para el prestigioso premio Luis Caballero, en Colombia.

Píldoras de cine español con Joana Granero

A lo largo de los meses de abril, mayo y junio, en jueves alternos, el Instituto Cervantes de Londres publicará vídeo presentaciones a cargo de Joana Granero, directora del Festival de Cine Español de Londres. Cada una de ellas se centra en contenidos relativos a películas recientes y de archivo, en la obra y trayectoria profesional de destacados nombres del cine español, movimientos artísticos y escuelas. 

En la primera sesión se recordará la figura de José Luis Cuerda, quien fue más que un director de cine, un guionista y un productor. Por su parte, en la segunda sesión se tratará un caso de éxito: ESCAC. La escuela de cine de Barcelona, además de ofrecer cursos con un lado práctico importante, ha producido algunas de las películas españolas recientes más interesantes. 

Podcasts literarios con El Ojo de la Cultura Hispanoamericana

Los podcasts literarios del mes de abril, producidos por El Ojo de la Cultura Hispanoamericana, tienen como figuras centrales al poeta español, catedrático y director del Instituto Cervantes, Luis García Montero y a la novelista argentina Mariana Enríquez, conducidos por Enrique Záttara, responsable del proyecto. 

El Ojo de la Cultura Hispanoamericana es un proyecto cultural multimedia, internacional y bilingüe, con base en Londres. Su objetivo es dar a conocer, difundir y conectar entre sí a los artistas, escritores, intelectuales y promotores de cultura de origen hispanoamericano residentes en Europa y el mundo. 

Ciclo Grandes compositores españoles e iberoamericanos

Además, la Sociedad de Música Ibérica y Latinoamericana (ILAMS) y el Instituto Cervantes de Londres presentan un ciclo de podcasts que, a modo de guía de audición, y con periodicidad mensual, acercan la vida y obra de alguno de los compositores españoles e iberoamericanos más representativos de la tradición musical de nuestros países. 

Ray Picot, crítico de conciertos en la Sociedad de Música Ibérica y Latinoamericana (ILAMS) desde 2001 y escritor de una columna mensual en la revista Echoes, resaltará las obras maestras clave de Enrique Granados, uno de los grandes compositores españoles, que alcanzó el reconocimiento internacional durante los primeros años del siglo XX.

“There’s much talent in Spanish film industry and now it’s being channeled”

This week, we continue a series of interviews with personalities from the Spanish-British sphere. Our fifth guest, Joana Granero, is the director of the London Spanish Film Festival in London.

Granero was born in Tarragona (Catalonia). After graduating in Law from the University of Barcelona she spent a couple of years in Italy and then moved to London, where she worked in publishing and got a MSc in Political and Social Theory from Birkbeck College. 

Out of a passion for cinema Granero created the London Spanish Film Festival in 2005, an event that was to fill a gap in London’s cultural panorama by bringing contemporary Spanish cinema in a well-defined context. 

In 2008 the Ambassador of Spain in London awarded her with the civil merit medal (Orden de Isabel la Católica) in recognition of her work with Spanish cinema. Granero also works as an independent curator and producer.

Arde Madrid: Joana Granero (Director of the Festival), Paco León (actor and director), Anna Costa (co-producer and co-scriptwriter), Alejandro Postigo (La Copla Musical) © Pau Ros

Out of a passion for cinema, you created the London Spanish Film Festival in 2005, how did the idea come up?

The idea came up seeing the few opportunities to watch Spanish cinema in the UK, particularly in London, a city so rich culturally, where it was possible to watch such a wide variety of films, from so many different countries. Spain was underrepresented. Then it was only possible to watch a few films at the international festivals and only Almodóvar, Amenábar and Medem got distribution of their films with few exceptions. I thought there was so much more to watch and, having always been a cinephile, I missed it. Hence at the moment in my career in which I was looking for a change, I put myself to work and here we are!

How have these 15 years at the LSFF been?

All in all, they’ve been exciting and enriching. They’ve been exciting because it’s never been boring or plain. We’ve lived many challenges, stressful situations alternated with moments of jubilation seeing the happiness of an audience, moments of joy with a full house and an impressed guest from Spain. Also some embarrassing and uncomfortable situations, like having to announce a guest’s last minute cancellation to an expectant audience. But every year we feel enriched with all the films, their contexts and conversations with guests, following the work of young and not so young filmmakers, and we feel extremely happy and proud to share it with audiences.

Presentation of Ana de día with Ingrid García Jonsson and the Festival’s Director, Joana Granero © Pau Ros

Could you share with us a couple of anecdotes that you remember from all these years?

One of my favourite moments ever is when Jorge Coira came to present his film «18 comidas«. We introduced it briefly to a full or nearly full house, which was surprising because he was not one of the best-known directors. We went for dinner while the audience watched the film and came back to do the Q&A and as people were leaving the cinema so many were approaching him to thank him for the film and tell him how much they had enjoyed it. In English, in Spanish and in Galician. Some were even thanking me for having brought the film over. Coira was moved. I was moved and trying not to cry. It was magical. That feeling of having gifted something that had made people happy even if only for an evening.

There have been many great moments behind the scenes too, like having very informal drinks at the end of the evening in the salons of the cinema with Fernando Trueba or Javier Cámara, the Festival’s team and the projectionist. Also some delightful surprise, like when Geraldine Chaplin was our guest and a gorgeous Oona Chaplin came looking for her mother, when Olga Kurylenko came to see her friend Jordi Mollà, who was our guest, or when we spotted among our audience Mike Lee, Steve Buscemi or Elle Macpherson.

Filmmaker Carlos Marqués Marcet with Prof. Maria Delgado discussing Anchor and Hope
© PopKlik

– How do you describe the general picture of Spanish cinema in the UK? Do you think our film industry is in good shape?

Since we started, the position of Spanish cinema in the UK has improved generally because there have been more films distributed and home cinema and streaming have contributed to this but there is still much room for improvement. Nevertheless we are very happy to see that the Festival and its Spring Weekend have become a regular, solid and anticipated window to the cinema from Spain in London.

As per the health of our film industry, I think more should be done in terms of promotion and distribution but of one thing we are convinced: there’s much talent in Spain and it’s being channeled.

The Festival’s Director, Fernando Trueba and the Festival’s Programmer, Patricia Pérez
© PopKlik

– You are now working on the round off the 16th edition of the festival, what do you plan on showcasing?

It’s difficult to say anything about the next edition due to all the uncertainty surrounding COVID19 and public gatherings. We keep working in a program but we’ll have to see what is possible and what is not. So far our 10th Spring Weekend scheduled for May has had to be cancelled but we may be able to have a short «summer weekend». We have to wait a bit and see. But we keep working with the cinemas and our supporters towards a solution.

While at War, by Alejandro Amenabar

– The audience loves your Q&A featuring very diverse guests in the programme. Who would you like to have in the next upcoming months?

Hard to say without a program in hand but we’ve recently watched the latest film by Alejandro Amenabar, Mientras dure la guerra / While at War, and we’d very much like having him with us to talk about this film and his work as filmmaker but also about his music work. We’d love to have back Carlos Saura but this time with his daughter, Anna Saura, who has been producing his latest theater and film productions. I first met her when she was 9 years old and she’s become a great and determined producer. We’d also love having back Alvaro Longoria to talk about his tireless work as a director and producer.

Dream guest would be Pedro Almodovar. We’ve featured some of his work along the years and we’d love having him with us to talk about anything. He has so much to offer. We’d also like to talk cinema with Alberto Rodriguez. And books, films and food with Isabel Coixet. I could go on for a good while….

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, by Pedro Almodóvar

– Could you suggest the title of 5 Spanish films to our audience so they can get a good introduction to Spanish cinema?

As I’ve mentioned Pedro Almodovar, I’d start with Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. I think there’s a before and an after that film. At the time it came out I could not get tired of watching it. I was completely fascinated by that refreshing way of looking at cinema and at women. And I think it has a timeless quality about it.

La tia Tula, by Miguel Picazo, illustrates very well with its realist approach provincial society in 60s Spain and it’s been a point of reference for Almodovar himself.

El extraño viaje, by Fernando Fernán Gomez, is one of my favorites. It is illustrative of the very Spanish tradition of esperpento. It’s fun. It’s crazy. It’s daring. It’s absurd. One can’t but wonder how it went through Franco’s censorship in 1964.

Te doy mis ojos, by Iciar Bollain, is another gem I think with two fantastic actors, Luis Tosar and Laia Marull. In a realistic and delicate way shows a dark side of Spain’s society.

Que Dios nos perdone / May God Save us is a film by Rodrigo Sorogoyen, from a younger generation. I think it is a terribly good film and representative of a maturity in Spanish cinema.

These are only a few of the many, many films I think could provide with a good introduction to Spanish cinema. This is perhaps just one of many ways to start.

 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ... 37 38 39
© Instituto Cervantes 1997-2020. Reservados todos los derechos. cenlon@cervantes.es