Barcelona vs Manchester

OK, so Barcelona has the better football team. But which city has the greater musical heritage? Jeremy Pound compares the two…

Parties aplenty in Barcelona, a city still wallowing in the glory of its football team's Champions League final win. Manchester can only stand back and applaud in admiration.

All very lovely. But football's not everything. What about the really important matter – namely, who would win a musical penalty shoot-out between the cities? We decided to put it to the test.

Here’s how they square up…

Liceu Opera

An early lead for Barcelona here. Manchester is well served by the Leeds-based Opera North, and the Royal Opera House recently announced plans to create a permanent base in the city. But then, set on the city’s famous Ramblas, the Catalan capital has the Liceu (pictured left), a sumptuous 2,300-seat opera house complete with its own company.
Barcelona 1 Manchester 0


The scores are level again. The Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya is a relatively young ensemble, founded only in 1944 after its predecessor was outlawed by Franco. On the other hand the Hallé, one of Europe’s top orchestras, can boast 150 years’ worth of history, while the highly-rated BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Camerata are also part of the Mancunian mix.
Barcelona 1 Manchester 1


Hard to separate them, as both cities have produced excellent composers. For Barcelona, there’s the likes of Fernando Sor (1778-1839), Federico Mompou (1893-1987) and Robert Gerhard (1896-1970), while Manchester gave us William Walton (1902-1983) and Peter Maxwell Davies (b1934). But then again, neither have a composer of Beethoven- or Brahms-like stature to turn the game in their favour. A goal apiece, then.
Barcelona 2 Manchester 2


Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Concert Halls
At first it looks even. Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall (1996, pictured right) and Barcelona’s L’Auditori (1999) are both among the best in Europe – modern, attractive and terrifically well-appointed venues seating just over 2,000. Manchester, of course, also has the much-loved Free Trade Hall… but then Barcelona weighs in with the Palau de la Musica, a stunningly ornate hall that, built in 1905, retains an iconic status among top musicians to this day.
Barcelona 3 Manchester 2


Rightly, a bust of the great Sir John Barbirolli stands outside the Bridgewater Hall… but he was originally from London. Sir Thomas Beecham, meanwhile, came from close by St Helens… which is definitely Merseyside, not Manchester. Hard, likewise, to name a world-class conductor, past or present, who plied his trade in the Jewel in the Sun. No goals here.
Barcelona 3 Manchester 2


Ouch. Manchester fans, look away now. For Barcelona, world-class soprano Montserrat Caballé and world-class tenor José Carreras are tying their laces and preparing to step up to the musical penalty spot, both inspired by the spirit of the late, great Victoria de los Angeles. Meanwhile, for the other side, is that Russell Watson we see? A bit of one-sided contest maybe…
Barcelona 4 Manchester 2


Kathryn Stott has flown the flag proudly for Manchester over the years, not least as the director of the Piano 2000 and 2003 festivals at the Bridgewater. Meanwhile, in Catalonia, Alicia de Larrocha has done more than anyone to champion the piano works of Spanish composers. Too close to call.
Barcelona 4 Manchester 2


Musical tolerance
Anything goes in Barcelona. On the corner by the Picasso museum, there’s a busker who for years appears to have played nothing but the middle movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and yet has survived being lynched. Two years ago in Manchester, in contrast, two professional freelance violinists were threatened with a banning order by the local council for daring to practise in their flat. Pretty decisive, we’d say.
Barcelona 5 Manchester 2


Final score: Barcelona 5 Manchester 2

Image: Jeremy Pound; Ben Blackall

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