Swiss city cracks down on foreign orchestral musicians

Swiss city cracks down on foreign orchestral musicians


norman lebrecht

October 21, 2014

Basle, never renowned for its easygoing ways, has decided to get tough on non-EU freelance musicians who play in the city orchestra and opera house. It has told them there will be no further work permits for those without a fulltime job.

Freelancers who can’t get a contract will have to leave town.


(picture from Basle Carnival)


  • Max Grimm says:

    The title and your introduction are misleading, Norman.
    The city’s public prosecutor is investigating a senior official of the Office of Economic and Labor Affairs for abuse of authority and office, because the official had granted permits that were NOT conforming to the law.
    Essentially, this official granted permits to freelance musicians that were normally only granted to musicians who had auditioned and won permanent positions, instead of the granting them the proper permits for temporary or fixed-term contracts.
    So due to this official, 55 musicians now unfortunately face the possibility of having their permanent permits reviewed and possibly readjusted to temporary ones or revoked.
    So, no getting tough or cracking down, simply fixing the wrongdoings of a civil-servant.

    • Belinda says:

      Actually Maxim, it’s not the fault of these 55 musicians that there was some “abusive tolerance” in swiss administration, and they have no any rights to throw away people who work and pay everything they have to! your arguments are funny, these people are only work and play the music. They love their work and they develop and make the level of cultural live internationally higher level, to throw away these people who work and live here already for many years is an open fascist way of functioning, Maybe it could be better from now on grant permits strict according to the low, but not throw away musicians who are already here for years. There was nothing non legal as the final decision was always for Bern ODM office right? so…. please, your comment is rediculous – See more at:

      • Max Grimm says:

        I agree that the 55 musicians are not at fault and that they should not have to suffer the consequences of an official’s wrongdoings. Before calling my comment ridiculous and insinuating that I in some way agree that these musicians should lose their jobs, you should note that in my earlier comment I merely pointed out that Norman’s wording in describing the issue at hand was misleading, as he makes it sound as though EVERY non-EU musician freelancing in Basel is facing issues with the permits. I never stated an opinion on how I thought the Swiss administration was handling the matter.

  • Scott Fields says:

    Why does EU citizenship play a role? Switzerland isn’t a member anyway.

  • Richard Dubugnon says:

    “Basle, never renowned for its easygoing ways” could you please develop, dear Norman ? Thanks.

  • Molly McDolan says:

    There are some MAJOR misconceptions about our situation here in Basel. We, the freelance musicians from countries outside the EU, are not eligible for fixed-contract work – we are freelancers! Most of us are not orchestral musicians. Indeed, most of us do not even play orchestral instruments! Instead, we are highly-trained specialists in our fields. Many are active in the thriving early music or new music scenes in Basel and throughout Europe.

    This was not a case of the wrong permit being assigned – there was no proper permit that applied to us! This official made it possible for us to apply for extremely restricted temporary permits. Our permits were 8-month permits, which we always had to renew. This change will make it impossible to get even those permits and many musicians will now be forced to leave Europe completely.

  • Nathaniel Wood says:

    It’s not just ORCHESTRAL musicians. It’s choir directors, church organists, music teachers, chamber musicians, world-class specialists in ancient, unusual or obscure instruments, solo singers – for whom a single full-time job simply does not exist, whether of Swiss, EU or “Third State” nationality. It’s not just the opera house and the city’s THREE several modern orchestras – this situation is echoing in every corner of the performing arts in Basel and its surroundings. To limit it to the more obvious “orchestral musicians” is at best an unfortunate oversight, and at worst a huge mischaracterization.

  • A. vd M. says:

    Being part of this group of musicians, I have to clarify some points.

    First of all, its not only because of the previous administration that the changes in the conditions to obtain a Freelance Work Permit as a musician have DRASTICALLY changed, it is because of a whole new immigration strategy to avoid having too many inmigrants occupying swiss posts in all fields, NOW..

    Focusing in our field, which is music:

    We are talking about singers and instrumentalists from all over the world specialized in Early Music and also Classical and Early Music orchestral playing, soloists, ensemble singers, solo instrumentalists AND orchestral musicians, most of the Graduates of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and the Musik-Hochschule Basel.

    The new conditions make it IMPOSSIBLE to be hired, SOME of them are this:

    -We are expected to leave Switzerland after every musical engagement (!) (to the US, Asia, Israel or wherever we come from.)

    -We are not allowed to stay over 8 months. ( why 8 and not 12 or 9?) even for some of us having Sunday Organ services for the whole year, or professional accompanist posts in Swiss institutions for TWO semesters=12 months, they dont care… or dont answer when we ask.

    -We are not allowed to apply for this work permit ourselves, only concert organizers and Festival Staff. (who wants extra work! organising concerts is already tricky!, then we are easily replaced by someone less experienced and more easily hireable.

    – We are basically not allowed to have an address in Switzerland anymore.

    – In our condition of freelancers, we not only work in Switzerland but in Germany France and other countries, but we pay our taxes in this country, and have no right to receive ANY financial support or unemployment benefits, so WE DO TRY TO KEEP BUSY…. Although, the work and engagements we get outside Switzerland does not count for them granting a PERMIT.

    – Most of the people who received the L permit this last years are members of very big name Ensembles, both Early Music AND Classical, counting Opera Houses and diverse Festivals in Europe.

    There’s a list of ALL the Ensembles that this musicians contribute to and we will publish it soon.

    This is extremely difficult and unfair. This does not only cover 55 musicians… in the future this number will of course grow…

  • Richard Dubugnon says:

    Hi everyone, thanks for the capital letters, it makes it easier to read. Just to let you know that I am Swiss and despite my international career, I find it difficult to find a job in my own country. Wonder why …

    • Dido says:

      Then imagine being kicked out of your country every time you have two months without an engagement in Switzerland… Your “international” career doesn’t count. You have to leave.

      • Richard Dubugnon says:

        Sorry people, I don’t understand this peculiar logic, even less this agressivity (exept if you are frustrated of loosing a job, which I sympathize with). I am Swiss born and French by naturalization, as I went through the hard process of getting French citizenship back in the early 90s when Schengen didn’t exist, therefore I cannot be kicked out neither from my own country nor from France, even if I wished to.

        I know from experience that traveling, studying, working and living abroad is a great richness and improvement for any person and any country. I don’t need to be lectured on that, as l Iived many years in the UK, the US & Russia.

        Some are criticizing Switzerland in a very ungrateful and violent way, and I read nothing about why they came here in the first place… their actual interest in the country or its people. I find it very materialistic to appreciate a country only for the financial conditions it can provide and not being interested in the culture, not mentioning learning the language.

        Switzerland has a population of 7 millions, unlike France, Germany or the UK it cannot absorb foreign workers up to a certain limit without creating serious accommodation and transport problems, which is already the case in Geneva and Lausanne for instance.

        And I am not talking about refugees there, so you couldn’t use the old argument that I am a fascist, or a racist or God knows what.

        Wishing you good luck to find work elsewhere, if you are amongst the unfortunate victims of the so-called crack-down. RD

        • DMA82 says:

          There is no aggression here. The decisions about these 55 musicians are made by a select few bureaucrats who do not necessarily represent the wishes of the Basel public. Those involved in this discussion are merely informing the public with correct information (this article is vague, at best).

          The urgency you are sensing perhaps is due to the fact that this is an urgent situation, not just to the 55, but to the Basel community who believes that the quality of their cultural life is important.

          These musicians (who speak German, pay taxes, and make up a fraction of a percent of those who ride public transport) have nothing but love for their Swiss friends and colleagues, which is why they wish to continue to live here. To answer your question as to why they came here, it is because Basel is a world capital for early and new music, and not because they were looking to get rich; if they were, they would be sorely disappointed!

          For those involved, this does not just mean finding a new “job”; it means finding a new home, far away from where they have built their lives and careers in a responsible and thoughtful way. At the very least, what is called for is an open discussion, so that the public can make decisions based on facts.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            I had no idea Basel was such an important place in the world of early music. You learn something new every day…
            Are there any specific reasons for why that is?

  • Audrey Christensen says:

    If you have an international career as a musician, then you know better than most that quality thrives on diversity. Basel and it’s native Swiss citizens enjoy the luxury of being the world centre for early music (among other genres). This is only obtained by attracting the highest level from all over the world.