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Living Polish Culture in Brazil: An Interview with Tiago Halewicz


Agnieszka Sural
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Tiago Halewicz, photo: courtesy of the artist
Tiago Halewicz, photo: courtesy of the artist

Agnieszka Sural speaks with Tiago Halewicz – pianist, curator, translator, researcher and promoter of Polish culture in Brazil.

Agnieszka Sural: You have Polish, Jewish, Muslim, Portuguese, and Italian roots.  How did your family end up in Brazil?

Tiago Halewicz: My paternal grandmother was born in 1926 in Zduńska Wola.  During World War II, when she was 14, she was sent to a labour camp in Germany.  In a factory around Koblenz she met my grandfather – Henryk Halewicz, who was born in the Bosnian town of Blagj, but had Polish roots going back to Galicia.  My grandmother, a Polish Jew, became involved with a Pole from Bosnia, who was also Muslim. 

In August 1945, shortly after my grandparents were released from the camp, my father was born – Ryszard.  For a few years my family lived in French-occupied Germany, after which time they immigrated to Brazil and settled in Porto Alegre.  

My mother, born in Brazil, is a combination of many ethnicities, which is typical of Brazilians: she has Italian, Portuguese, and Arab-Jewish roots.  I am the son of immigrants from the late wave of migration.  

Employees of Casamundi Cultura (from the left: Rafaeła Pehansky, Thirza Moreira, Chay Amorim, Fernanda Morassutti, Tiago Halewicz, Arthur Lang), photo: Fredy Vieira/Jornal do Commercio
Employees of Casamundi Cultura (from the left: Rafaeła Pehansky, Thirza Moreira, Chay Amorim, Fernanda Morassutti, Tiago Halewicz, Arthur Lang), photo: Fredy Vieira/Jornal do Commercio

A lot of people with Polish roots live in Porto Alegre?

The first wave of Polish immigrants arrived in the last decades of the nineteenth century, in a period called the ‘great migration’, when Poland did not exist as a state.  The next significant moment was in the interwar period, though there were already fewer then.  After World War II came the next wave, with the greatest flow at the end of the 1940s. It is estimated that in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, where I was born and where I live, people with Polish roots make up three percent of the population.    

Has their presence shaped the city and the local culture? In a way like Yanka Rudzka’s works in Salvadore or Zbigniew Ziembiński’s in Rio de Janeiro?

In Porto Alegre, my hometown, despite the significant presence of descendants of Poles, there are no elements of Polish heritage, no iconic characters who had an impact on the rise and development of this 244-year-old city.  But in many cities in the interior of Rio Grande do Sul, such as Dom Feliciano, Áurea, and Erechim, Polish influences are evident in everyday life, they are a part of the heritage.  

Karol Szymanowski
Karol Szymanowski

As a pianist you promote Polish music.  Was your predilection for composers from along the Wisła instilled in you at home?

I studied piano at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, under the direction of Maly Weisenblum – a Brazilian pianist of Polish-Jewish descent, educated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.  Earlier, I studied for a time at the University of Music in Warsaw, but it was Maly Weisenblum who encouraged me to reach for the works of Karol Szymanowski, Kazimierz Serocki, and Witold Lutosławski

This was rare in Brazil, because the only Polish composer whose work is part of the compulsory music curriculum in Brazil is Chopin. Polish composers rarely appear on the programs of Brazilian concert halls.  Our system of music education is focused on traditional western music.  I was influenced by Professor Weisenblum when I brought Polish composers into my concert repertoire.  

You became a specialist in the works of Karol Szymanowski.

I vividly remember the day in 1988, when Professor Weisenblum pulled from the closet a book with a blue cover, with the inscription ‘Mazurkas op. 50 by Karol Szymanowski’, and said ‘I think you should play this’. 

These mazurkas, written in the last years of the composer’s life, opened before me a completely different world – incomprehensible, but alluring in its exoticism. In time, I began to decipher them.  When I was able to overcome the technical difficulties, folk themes emerged – as if by magic.  After the Mazurkas came Etudes op. 4, Variations op. 10, and the Sonata.  And so it was. Szymanowski became the foundation of my musical life.

In the meantime, I began a major project devoted to the opera King Roger op. 46, which premiered in 1926 in Warsaw.  I remember seeing a staging of the work at the Wrocław Opera and wanted to learn more about the composer.  I started to analyse Szymanowski’s biography and his correspondence with Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz.  Then came time to study the opera’s libretto, as well as The Birth of Tragedy by Nietzsche, which influenced both Szymanowski and Iwaszkiewicz. Based on the letters, the libretto, and Nietzsche’s text, I researched the homoerotic discourse in the plot of the opera and analysed its musical nuances.  

Wisława Szymborska receives the news of her Nobel Prize in Literature, Zakopane, 1996, photo: Adam Golec/AG
Wisława Szymborska receives the news of her Nobel Prize in Literature, Zakopane, 1996, photo: Adam Golec/AG

 How did you come to translate the poetry of Wisława Szymborska into Portuguese?

I have always admired the work of Szymborska.  I translated a selection of her poems, shared them among friends, and read them during lectures on Polish literature.  My translations were getting better, and I saw how these verses affected some people.  Since the publishing market lacked translations into Brazilian Portuguese, I published my translations in the book Memória Cultural polonesa [Polish Cultural Memory] in 2008.  Some question a pianist who takes up the translation of poetry.  But in the end, music is, after all, nothing but pure poetry. 

My second book is Caminhos de Chopin [Chopin’s Routes], published in 2016 by R&O Editores and Casamundi Cultura, with the support of the Polish Consulate in Curitiba.  It is a guide to Chopin’s travels through Europe.  Discovering the travel routes encoded in Chopin’s letters took me five years.  Certainly in Poland there are similar publications, but there was no such book in Portuguese that brought together the composer’s travels in a way that was comprehensive with in-depth historical and musicological analysis.   

In 2008 you became program curator at StudioClio – Institute of Art and Humanism in Porto Alegre.  Can this be reconciled with your musical career? 

My artistic activity gradually became of secondary importance to the work associated with the management of a cultural institution – my last concert was in 2010.  I invite to share in musical programs many Polish artists, like Marian Sobula, Michał Szymanowski, Joanna Trzeciak, and Piotr Żukowski.  

I began to realise, that culture should be understood in a deeper, multidisciplinary way, analysed as a relationship between the variety of creative fields – music, visual arts, literature, and architecture.  I care about the dialogue between the various disciplines and with diverse audiences.  I – who in studies confined myself to music and was not satisfied with that – have opened myself to new experiences.  

As my interests expanded, I began to investigate some phenomena in loco.  It was in this way that the activities related to cultural tourism were born – showing people the places and events in Poland that were the subjects of my lectures. 

View of Porto Alegre, Brazil, photo: Rafaela Pechansky
View of Porto Alegre, Brazil, photo: Rafaela Pechansky

What are these subjects?

I avoid the traditional tourist attractions, with the help of local guides and specialists I offer participants something more authentic.  I have already led three trips during which we retraced the routes of Chopin’s travels in his childhood and youth, which began in Warsaw and ended in Paris and Nohant.  During the tours, participants also listened to piano concerts.  

I avoid the traditional tourist attractions, with the help of local guides and specialists I offer participants something more authentic.  I have already led three trips during which we retraced the routes of Chopin’s travels in his childhood and youth, which began in Warsaw and ended in Paris and Nohant.  During the tours, participants also listened to piano concerts.  

My idea of tourism in Poland is to show the Brazilian public that the country has a lot more to offer than what is found in tourist catalogues. For instance, its amazing landscapes – Mazury, Sudeten, Beskidy – the existence of which Brazilians had no idea. 

After Casamundi Turismo, the firm dealing with cultural tourism, you created Casamundi Cultura.  

In 2015 I found that the culture market in Brazil was more and more demanding.  I dreamed of an open and democratic space for discussions of culture that took into account its contemporary interpretation.  The Brazilian market – and the market in my town – needed a place to ‘live culture’, that would also broach the problems of modernity. 

Casamundi Cultura is a centre where interdisciplinary discussions on the transformation of the modern world take place. It is a space outside of the academy where, with meetings, courses, and lectures, we educate and promote the circulation of ideas.   Classes conducted by experts relate to topics such as literature, design, photography, and international relations.  We value knowledge free from norms and doctrines and welcome a variety of opinions.  We are happy to discuss all aspects of travel.  We delve into a variety of topics, ranging from the refugee crisis in Europe, to the works of Miguel de Cervantes, Scandinavian design, and Polish cinema.  This is a universal space and has already been recognised by the press and cultural consumers of Porto Alegre. 

Towards what kind of customers are you targeted? 

It is not my goal to reach people that are already associated with Poland – as it the case of Brazilians with Polish heritage.  Based on the quality of Polish culture, I want to attract a new audience, regardless of age or origin. 99 percent of participants in my project are people who see aesthetic and artistic value in Polish art, music, and literature, regardless of its links with Poland. 

Soon we with have a staff prepared to lead workshop topics, which so far have only been dealt with by me. The inclusion of Polish design to the program will be the next step.  I have ideas about expanding the company in 2017 and moving into new areas.  One of the new projects will be a training for leaders of the Polish community and individuals active in Polish community circles.  This training – ‘Poland: Culture, Arts, and Heritage’ – will begin in our institute and conclude in Poland, where we will visit cultural institutions. 

Warsaw – Porto Alegre, April 2016

Read more on Polish culture in Brazil HERE

For 150 years, Polish emigration has brought outstanding artists to Brazil. Today, a new generation... Read more about: Traces of Polish Culture in Brazil

 

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