You can join our orchestra – if you speak Catalan

You can join our orchestra – if you speak Catalan


norman lebrecht

April 11, 2018

Fluency in the Catalan language is the new policy of the socialist government of the Balearic Isles, and it is being imposed right away on the symphony orchestra.

Just one problem: half the existing players are foreign nationals and the music director, Joji Hattori, is Japanese.

Read this.



  • The View from America says:

    Isn’t hyper-nationalism nice …

  • John Rook says:

    Is anyone surprised by this policy? I remember, fourteen years ago, having to ask a guide to speak Castellano (‘Spanish’) while being shown round a tourist venue in El Vendrell. She protested, saying she ‘wasn’t used to it’. I pointed out that four of her six listeners were foreigners and didn’t understand Catalan. She gave it a go for three minutes before relapsing back into Catalan and concentrating her entire attention on her native public, completely ignoring the rest of us for the remaining hour and a half of the tour. Thanks, señora.

    Try finding a Castellano radio station beyond RNE in Catalonia and see how far you get.

    It’s a bit like a herd of idiots screaming at the top of their voices until everyone else just gets tired of the noise. They will prevail and feel fabulously superior as a result. No matter that their putative nation will suffer as a result.

  • Sharon Beth Long says:

    I agree with the comments. However, I also understand wanting to give the jobs to local people if the orchestra is supported by local tax dollars. In the United States the civil service rules of most state and county governments require an employee to be a resident of that state or county. No one believes that that is particularly unfair.

    I remember reading that there was a question in the 1980s as to whether Erik Bruhn, a Dane, should be the director of the Canadian National Ballet. Many countries want their national arts organizations led by nationals because the purpose of the national arts organization is to promote national culture.

    Same goes for regional arts. I know that one of my favorite films Weekend (2007) was partially supported by a Scottish regional development fund. One of the requirements was that all but the two lead actors had to be residents of that region in Scotland. The director complied and the film turned out great even if I had some trouble with understanding the accents.

    I remember in 1967 my parents took the family to Expo 67 in Montreal for a vacation. When we asked for directions in English people refused to reply and this was before the major movement for Quebec separatism! If Madrid were a little more sympathetic or compromised a bit on some autonomy for Catalonia maybe there would not be such a strong desire to make a political statement by having a mainly Catalonian orchestra.

    However, even if Catalonian autonomy were not an issue, a strong case can still be made that organizations and projects funded by local and state governments should hire people from the pool of people who pay the taxes to support those governments. This also means that salaries will be more likely spent in the local economy rather than leave the area.

    As far as the argument that hiring restrictions compromise quality is concerned, how are we going to develop quality unless we give local people a chance?

    • John Rook says:

      Good points and well-argued, but Catalonia’s case appears to have been political beyond practical for a long time. We were tourists, not sedentary taxpayers, in a tourist venue where no attempt was made to accommodate our lack of the local language. That’s pretty short-sighted and motivated by something other than monolingual protectionism.

      • SDG says:

        Many years ago, on my first visit to Spain, I boned up on the Spanish (Castilian) language, helped by phrase books and a few guinea pig lessons at university some years before.

        As it happened our trip was to Catalonia, where we found they were reluctant to speak Castilian, a language which appeared on multi-language menus towards the end as a foreign language.

        No problem – the people were happy to converse with us in French, which we preferred, and most could speak English.

    • buxtehude says:

      You certainly have point. And yet — reading about the refugee Rafael Kubelik allowing himself to be driven (in 1958) from the music directorship of Covent Garden after three years, owing to a campaign by Beecham that the national opera should be staffed only by nationals — it carries the smell of a narrow parochialism, isn’t that so?

  • Anon says:

    Nationalism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      I agree, and protectionism is a natural consequence of nationalism. If there’s anything that should transcend nationalism, it is the universality of music.

    • Ellingtonia says:

      And platitudes are the last refuge of the illiterate numpty!

  • duane says:

    Music is supposed to be the language.

    What’s next. All operas put on in Catalonia must be translated into the local dialect?

  • fred says:

    of course the Catalans are totally right, the internationals are very keen to get their money but too lazy to learn their language??? C’m off it…..Yet people seem to have no problems with the anglo-saxon dialect.

    • Anon says:

      Because with English you can get very far, with Catalan you get nowhere. It happens everywhere in the world. Open up your narrow minds, small tribes. Don’t create artificial problems where there are none. Language is a tool of communication primarily. Not a weapon in separatist divisiveness.

    • Common sense says:

      C’m off it… Catalans want to attract the best musicians they can get for their money, but shut the door before them with short term unrealistic language barriers??? Totally wrong.

    • Carmen says:

      The level of Catalan this orch. is requiring (B2) is far above the ability of anyone who simply makes an effort to learn the language. It’s basically the level of a native Catalan speaker. The level of Spanish required for Spanish citizenship is only A2.

      Local govt. is shooting themselves in the foot with this new policy. The adjoining articles linked in this article discuss the exodus of badly needed doctors from Mallorca, discriminated against because they don’t speak Catalan.

      • Basilio Gonzalez Perez says:

        That is the truth . If you are Spanish in Catalonia they will descriminate against you and I say that for experience as I have been at the receiving end a few years ago

  • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

    I suppose they wear balaclavas with ETA logos.

  • Pablo C says:

    It’s not unreasonable to expect people working in a region – and especially in a publicly funded job – to have some command of the local language. Particularly if it is distinct as more than a dialect or accent.
    The main issue in Catalonia now isn’t the ‘nationalism’. It’s the repression of the right to an opinion and a voice throygh democratically elected representatives. Or to wear yellow – banning a colour shows you how barking mad the regime is!
    Disagreeing is fine. Opposing is fine. Bullying, dogmaticism and making up lies…not so good.
    And yes – most operas do have surtitles in the local language.
    Another ‘yes’ is that learning even just a few basics in the relevant language helps enormously and also reveals a lot about the visitor.

    • Carmen says:

      Pablo, they’re not asking for “some command of the local language”, they’re requiring certification of C2 level of Catalan. That’s a very advanced level, something probably only a native speaker could achieve.

    • Joseph says:

      Hi Pablo. Am I wrong if I say that Spanish is as official as the Catalan in the Balearic islands and that less than 40% of its population uses the Catalan frecuently? Btw, no opinion is represed nor persecuted in Spain and the prove is that you can freely express yourself wherever and whenever you want (I’m not so sure if the people who disagree with the nationalists can feel the same (in Catalonia)). The prosecuted people are just those who break the law. Quite dangerous are those who think winning elections are “carte blanche” even against the basic rights.

  • psq says:

    Who are on the roster of their conductors? How many conductors of worth can speak Catalan?

    • Pablo C says:

      There at least 3 very good ones on this list – – and one may or may not be a good conductor but is undeniably a world class performer.
      Is your point that visiting musicians also need to speak a local language? Mine is that it’s reasonable to expect people commiting to live and work full time in a region to have an understanding of that region’s tongue.

      • Carmen says:

        Castellano, yes, Catalan or any of the 6 other regional languages of Spain, no, I disagree. What if every orch. in Spain suddenly required fluency (& that’s what the Balearic govt. is requiring) in the regional language? Do you think San Sebastian could maintain its status as a world class orchestra if they expected everyone to be fluent in Euskara?

        Look, this Baleares orchestra has been hanging on by its fingernails financially and organizationally for a while now. Good Catalan players aren’t interested in working there for the most part. It’s unstable & it doesn’t pay very well. It’s on an island. I hear they have a hard time keeping good management, let alone good Catalan management.

        So this orchestra is now basically cutting themselves off from the rest of the world & assuring its own downfall. WIth few exceptions, the people who can actually speak Catalan don’t want to work there. Catalans are known to be savvy, esp. about money. They’re not going to ship off to some island when they can earn more staying in mainland Spain or abroad. Especially good Catalan speaking musicians. They go where the good jobs and money are, not where they know they’ll pass a language test.

        This orch. is probably on the shakiest ground financially of any Spanish orch. right now. It’s laughable that they are imposing this ridiculous new requirement. The level of players will drop dramatically & the orch. will sink. They’ve been sinking for a while anyway. But at least now they’ll sink speaking Catalan!

  • Anon says:

    Provincial small minds.
    Shameful for people, who claim to speak humanity’s universal language: music.

  • LaCatalana says:

    I am Spanish and Catalana and I am appalled that said “progressives” seem to have forgotten the international vital support to the Catalan resistance during the Civil War. Should we have sent them away as well? Art requires dialogue and difference. A balance can be found between a sense of belonging and regional identity and broader inclusion.
    My sincere apologies to the musicians who enrich and diversify our artistic scene in Spain and Catalonia.

  • Albert says:

    You know what? You´re now suffering first hand what´s the problem with catalan nationalism, they contaminate every damn debate around the world as a way to gain international support for their cause. They contaminate even music, and as a result they contaminate this wonderful site that should avoid these political issues. Cause you know, it´s impossible to talk about this entry and analyzing it, it´s impossible to talk about this local government policy, without talking about Catalan independence and their use of catalan lenguage as a weapon [Pablo, should I say Pau?, catalan is not THE balearic local language, catalan is only ONE OF the local languages just like the castilian, as most of the people in Balearic Islands (and in Catalonia, by the way) speak castilian as its main language and both castillian and catalan are official languages in these regions]