UNESCO’s Top 9 Musical Cities In The World

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is well known for its designations of World Heritage Sites. For the music and travel lovers it also has a Cities of Music list that is completely fascinating and full of surprises. Fame and size are not on the list of criteria, hence New York and Berlin, two great musical centers who didn’t make the cut. The list rather, focuses on cities with a distinguished musical history endemic to local, national and world culture which have music in the DNA. The qualifying cities also make music an important sector of the economy in terms of concerts, technology and tourism. They also share a serious, comprehensive musical educational component and actively promote their specialties to ensure their music thrives going forward and remains an important part of the culture and economy. For the traveler, these are meccas of live music, most of which have stunning venues from the medieval to the postmodern. It is a thought-provoking list without an obvious name. By the end of it, you might find yourself looking at flights to places you may never have heard of or even just imagining the scenes and settings is time well wasted.

9. Seville, Spain

What better place to start than the city that is the setting of the two greatest operas of all time, Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. These are the stuff of musical legends, but the heart and soul of musical culture and a touchstone of the Spanish identity is flamenco and it bears musical influences from all the cultures that have been part of the region’s history. For example, Spanish folk music, Arabic Byzantine and Christian and Jewish religious music. Seville’s most famous and hugely popular music festival, the Bienal de Flamenco, is world renowned. The greatest flamenco interpreters stage traditional and original works in the sublime beauty of the city’s architectural masterpieces making a feast for all the senses; Real Alcazar the 9th century palace. And the ancient Roman ruins, like watching great works of art in great works of art, but the most critically acclaimed takes place in the city’s nightclub district called Tablao El Arenal with award-winning artists performing a wide variety of flamenco’s different palos or styles.

Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock.com
Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock.com

8. Mannheim, Germany

Mannheim is a dynamic multicultural center of creativity. The aging rock group Mannheim Steam roller is American, but their name derives from one of many musical innovations of the Mannheim school of Composers of the 18th century. The Mannheim Roller is a kind of crescendo development by the large orchestra at the court of Charles III Philip. Mannheim influences can be found in the works of Beethoven and Mozart. The musical pedigree here runs deep. UNESCO notes the city has been “a long-standing leader and innovator, with an extraordinary infrastructure for music”. It is a deliberate policy initiative that sees music having economic benefits not just within its own business, but for tourism and technology sectors. However, don’t think it’s all about classical music. Mannheim is still widely regarded as one of Germany’s musical centers. The Mannheim Pop Academy offers a Bachelor’s Degree in pop music while the Time Warp festival has the biggest names in techno music.

Photo by: Germany Travel
Photo by: Germany Travel

7. Hannover, Germany

It is a city of festivals and cabaret. The heavy metal band Scorpion, one of Europe’s most famous is from Hannover. The people of Hannover say there at the center of the Land of Music and it’s not a far-fetched claim. The hugely influential Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media attracts gifted students from around the world who on their own perform 500 public concerts a year. The faculty includes Departments of Chamber Music, Contemporary Music, Ancient Music, Jazz|Rock|Pop and Musicology. They teach every orchestral instruments except, for some reason, the harp. MUSIC is an institution of graduate study for research and development in emerging musical technologies. Also, Hannover is where the first music cassette was produced, first CD was pressed and the first vinyl was invented.

Hannover, Germany

6. Hamamatsu, Japan

Hamamatsu is a city of less than a million people and is located about 100 miles south of Tokyo along the Pacific coast. The makers of some of the world’s finest musical instruments, from grand pianos to synthesizers were founded here. Music is a huge part of the city’s cultural and business community – Roland, Yamaha and Kawai still have their corporate headquarters in Hamamatsu. In fact no other place on earth may be this musical. The multiple stage Concert Hall is opulent and state of the art. There are 10 music festivals that occur here each year, two of the biggest are the internationally sanctioned Hamamatsu International Piano Competition and the Shizuoka International Opera Competition, both attracting major talent worldwide. The Hamamatsu Academy of Music and Shizuoka University of Art and Culture train students in everything from playing instruments to concert hall management. The Museum of Musical Instruments has an amazing collection from different eras and cultures. Part of its mandate is “fostering cross-cultural understanding and cultural diversity through music”.  As a last tribute to its musical pedigree, it is likely the only Asian city with a statue of a Polish composer, but it’s a copy of the famous art Nouveau depiction of Frederic Chopin in Warsaw, the sister city of Hamamatsu.

Photo by: Shizuoka Tourism
Photo by: Shizuoka Tourism

5. Ghent, Belgium

Most of Ghent’s North American reputation is based on it being the city in which England and the United States concluded the treaty that ended the War of 1812. It’s a city full of culture and art events offering a unique combination of a celebrated past and a lively present. Now it is an educational and artistic center, especially in the musical realm. There are two graduate schools that teach opera and musicianship. Ghent also has elegant avenues and canals and is called the City of Festivals (although come to think of it, so is Montreal). But Ghent’s go back at least to 1843 when the Gentse Feesten (the “Festivities of Ghent”) began. The whole city becomes a series of concert stages for all kinds of music and entertainment. Each year you can find some of the world’s biggest jazz names here, as well as upcoming acts that are both Belgian and international. Last year 30,000 people visited as Ghent becomes a music-lover’s Mecca. Hundreds of performers provide a varied mixture of classical, jazz and world music. For the Festival of Flanders “The streets alongside Ghent’s waterways overflow with music, animation, art and spectacle”. The Jazz Festival attracts the biggest name performers. Even the Film Festival is about music in film. It’s not just the variety it’s also the venues, along the city’s canals some of which date back to medieval days. Plus Belgians really do make the best fries in the world.

Sergey Dzyuba / Shutterstock.com
Sergey Dzyuba / Shutterstock.com

4. Glasgow, Scotland

Of course Glasgow would be home to the World Pipe (as in bagpipe) Band competition and the highly coveted winner’s trophy. But Glasgow is far more than that – it is an Old World city with a rich history filled with creative arts. Music is one of its most notable. For almost a century, St. Andrew’s Hall was one of the most celebrated musical venues in Europe. It was burned to the ground in 1962 by a careless smoker at a boxing match, but its reputation for musical excellence sustains to this day. With UNESCO as partner, Scottish musical enthusiasts have written a book, Dear Green Sounds that tells the musical history of Glasgow through its historic venues as a walking tour. From the classical offerings at St. Andrew, to perhaps less refined though no less memorable concerts from Frank Sinatra to Freddie Mercury. It is one of those places in which music is ingrained. Classical fans still lament the loss of St. Andrew’s, but it has kept up with time and fashion.

Glasgow at Night

3. Brazzaville, Congo

In Africa it seems like music is not just for listening, it’s a cause for celebration. It’s an escape perhaps from the poverty in which too many of them live. The capital of Congo was there at the birth of soukous (from the French verb to shake) or Congolese rumba, a genre of mesmerizing high-speed dance and music that is an African cultural bedrock, ubiquitous across the continent and popular around the world. Music in Brazzaville is an aspect of their culture to conserve, teach and promote. It’s home to the African Music Council and the 2015 Pan-African Music Festival whose theme in 2015 was “dynamics of music in the diversity of cultural expressions”. Other major events include the FEUX DE BRAZZA (Festival of Lights), which is a blast as you would expect any African music event would be, especially amidst the charm of Brazzaville. But it has its serious side as well…its mission statement reads, in part, the safeguarding of African cultural traditions will ensure that through this festival, future generations will be the link that will perpetuate that culture”.

Photo by: Congo-Site/Portail National Du Congo
Photo by: Congo-Site/Portail National Du Congo

2. Bologna, Italy

On its opera alone, Italy is world musical superpower, but in term musical centers, fans usually think of Milan’s legendary opera house, La Scala, or perhaps the Venice of Antonio Vivaldi. UNESCO has chosen the ancient educational and culinary center of Bologna for its list, citing its “widespread promotion of the music sector” La Dota (The Learned) home to the oldest university in the world, dating from 1088. The University of Bologna was the first in the country to offer degrees music and performing arts. Not to mention the music festivals! It seems the only festival missing from this city is a Congolese rumba festival. Classical, chamber, devotional, opera, ballet, blues jazz, even Jewish jazz. The target audiences start at the age of one. For music lovers there is the additional attraction of events set in the glorious ancient city. Bologna has four major orchestras including one run by Claudio Abbado, one of the greatest conductors of his generation. But it’s not just the artistic history and culture, it’s the educational and community outreach that UNESCO favors with Abbado’s Orchestra Mozart works as music therapists in the health and social services field. Also, dress rehearsals are open free of charge to dozens of schools and cultural associations.

Bologna, Italy

1. Bogotá, Colombia

Columbia is undergoing a remarkable transition socially, economically and architecturally as it is a creative city renowned for its rich music scene. The traditional and emerging forms of music are playing an intrinsic part of the change. The country holds 60 festivals every year, the biggest of which is “Festivales Al Parque” an eclectic display of everything from jazz, opera, hip hop and salsa that over half a million people flock to see. In addition to hosting the “Festivales Al Parque”, Bogota has 500 live music venues where festivals occur annually. UNESCO says the city is an important center for the performance and cultivation of the following music forms: salsa, fusion, rock, opera, classic, chamber, electronic, pop, tropical, ranchera, hip hop, experimental, bolero, gospel and Colombia’s own rich musical traditions can be heard. It has taken on the task as a regional cultural center to promote artists across Latin America and the Caribbean. Bogota is at the edge of the evolving public policy of using music as a cultural touchstone and lucrative engine of economic growth. The Bogota Music Market, created in 2012, has also become a notable platform for local and regional music agents. Additionally, the Chamber of Commerce is developing a Music Cluster in order to strengthen the city’s dynamic music sector.

Fotos593 / Shutterstock.com
Fotos593 / Shutterstock.com

10 Most Expensive Cities To Move To In The World

There are so many ingenious ways to measure the cost of living in places around the world. So if you’re thinking of heading off to a treasured locale in some far off land, you absolutely want to check this list. Six of the top ten culprits on The Domestic Budget from Hell list are from either China or Switzerland. The cost of living can rise or fall on the arcane machinations of currency values, population growth or plain old corruption. Some cultures have never got the hang of retail and their screwed-up distribution systems lead to classic horror stories like the legendary $40 cantaloupe of Tokyo. Here’s where it gets really interesting. Most of the insanely expensive cities that have dominated these lists in recent years have fallen off, Tokyo among them along with New York, London and Moscow making way for a whole new batch of prohibitively expensive destinations. So hold on to your wallet and take the tour, free of charge.

10. N’Djamena, Chad

Simply put Chad is a basket case sitting atop an ocean of recently discovered oil and N’Djamena is the capital. Mercer sums up the problems this way: “The main driver behind this is the difficulty finding good, secure accommodation for expatriates. “So the limited supply of acceptable accommodation is very expensive. The cost of imported international goods is also high.” Plain English translation:Chad is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. At least half the estimated $10 USD billion in earnings has been skimmed off for military hardware and embezzlement. The country also borders on war-stricken Syria and Sudan and the U.S. State Department counsels Americans to avoid border zones where the dreaded Boko Haram are a real threat. The average annual wage is $750. Average life expectancy is 51. Chronic drought devastates crops and there’s no real infrastructure to cut through the corruption. So with a full plate like that, Chad hasn’t got around to building condos, heath clubs and sushi bars for the oil workers that have flocked there. Cheap it is not. But it dropped from the number two slot last year, so maybe there’s progress.

Photo by: afcone via Flickr
Photo by: afcone via Flickr

9. Bern, Switzerland

When thinking about expensive cities mammoth urban monster is the image that comes to mind. Bern is a lovely city, a bucolic town of maybe 150,000 people. It is the capital with an Old Town that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. But, pricier than Tokyo and London? Well start with a tight housing market. Then add the Capitol Factor with civil servants making very decent money. The biggest culprit has nothing to do with Bern at all. In fact it has more to do with Greece and the panic its long running death spiral in the European Union has caused. When it looked like Greece might default on EU loans, nervous investors dumped their Euros and bought Swiss Francs as a safe haven for their money bags causing it to zoom in value. Suddenly expats had to spend way more of their own currency to buy the francs they needed. As a result everything in Switzerland got more expensive without prices in stores actually being marked up.

Bern Switzerland

8. Seoul, South Korea

Now this is more like it. A city of ten million at the head of the massive industrial juggernaut that is South Korea. Seoul begins the Asian onslaught. A nice apartment costs about two grand, not way out of line. But groceries and clothing are the silent killers, twice the level in the U.S. A decade ago Seoul was barely making the Top 50, now it’s Top 10 again largely because of international currency turbulence. The Korean Won has jumped 36% against the Japanese yen and 15% against the weakening Euro. Here’s how currency changes become price increases. That $2000 USD apartment to a Canadian with a weaker currency costs $2527 CAD. Ouch, eh?

Top Cities 2013 - Seoul

7. Beijing, China

The expense of living in Beijing is giving whole new meaning to the expression “Forbidden City.” A three-bedroom apartment downtown can be north of US$4000. Office space is pricier than Manhattan. Eating Western food even at home is prohibitive. Tuition for schools starts at $25000 USD. Coffee has broken the $6 barrier. The rise in value of the Chinese yuan is propelling several growing Chinese cities up the expensive charts with bullets. Shenyang, a city of 8 million, 700 km northeast of Beijing jumped 33 rungs to 21st. Qingdao, home of the famous beer, jumped 24 to 25th.On the other hand cigarettes are 3 bucks a pack, making it hard on would be quitters.

Beijing, China

6. Shanghai, China

Two hints this place will cost you. 1) There are more than 17 million people. 2) Even after the sell off the Shanghai stock market is up 89% over last year. So the place is sloshing around in people and money as incomes rise and a middle class emerges to compete with expats for scarcer and scarcer housing. Even now, a real estate website offers a tiny 2-bedroom apartment in what they “The Other Areas” for $2200 USD a month. Anything imported is hideously expensive. Levi 501’s are $116.50, a package of diapers is $32.00, and breakfast cereal is eight bucks a box. All this on top of the inflation from the rising value of the currency and it will be a pretty penny to live in the shadow of the iconic skyline. Except for Canadians who don’t have pennies anymore.

toiletroom / Shutterstock.com
toiletroom / Shutterstock.com

5. Geneva, Switzerland

The Swiss sticker shock continues in the Club Sandwich Index champ. Geneva is home to a number of United Nations organizations so there are a lot of professionals with commensurate salaries. There is an economic axiom that cities with high incomes tend to have higher prices. Hence the $7 toothpaste of Geneva. For some reason the cost of appliances in Genève is notorious. Expats scratch their heads at the basic microwaves costing $60 at Walmart while in Geneva they cost $300. The population is less than 200,000, but since the Swiss prefer to rent rather than own due to prohibitive ownership costs, there is a dire shortage of places to live. A three bedroom in the city is around $4000 USD. Chicken is $14 a pound, those Levis are $140, and the Big Mac is $15. It all adds up. At least it ranks lowest for wine with an average bottle costing $8.69. You’ll need it.

Geneva Switzerland

4. Singapore City, Singapore

In most western jurisdictions drinking and driving is criminal offense with serious consequences. Singapore follows the-time honored economic principal that if you want to discourage certain behaviors, tax the hell out of them. As for the drinking part a delightful website called Living in Sin says drinkable wine starts at $18 USD. A loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, a pack of cigarettes together costs $39.11 and that’s not even counting restaurant markups. Sometimes you can get cheaper at a 7/11. Another city with a strong currency and financial center. A 900 square foot apartment runs $4900 a month. The BBC rates it the most expensive place to buy clothes and basic groceries are 11% higher than New York. But the pain really kicks in when it comes to cars. More for traffic than environmental reasons, Singapore discourages the use of them by making their use crazy pricey. That BMW that cost $34,000 back home in Minneapolis needs a Certificate of Entitlement which after fees, taxes and plates costs an estimated $238,000. And honestly, how can you be a self-respecting financial mover and shaker without one?

Singapore city

3. Zurich, Switzerland

Being more expensive than Singapore is no easy task, but Zurich has done it. It’s become one of those places where price tags just bring tears to your eyes. Yet there are less than 400,000 people. The average movie ticket is priced at being over $21 while haircuts are $50. That ubiquitous pair of Levis a staggering $156. A two bedroom apartment is $4100 plus. Even the wine is almost triple the price in Geneva. Food in Switzerland is said to be 45% more expensive than the rest of Western Europe. Wait there’s more. As in Geneva a microwave sets you back $329. There are people in the Ozarks who can manage to source appliances and get them on retail shelves for less than $100. It would be classified as insane in any of Switzerland’s official languages if it weren’t for the fact it still has a ways to go to catch #2 on the list.

Zurich Switzerland

2. Hong Kong, China

The Mong Kok neighborhood on Hong Kong’s Kowloon Peninsula is by many measurements the most crowded place on earth with a population density of around 300,000 people per square mile. Manhattan’s corresponding figure is a mere 66,771. Though now repatriated to China it remains a huge global financial hub. Add a currency that’s pegged to the surging U.S. greenback. Put the three together and affordable housing becomes a distant memory while a cup of coffee has reached $11. An unfurnished two bedroom flat is about $6400 a month. As the Wall Street Journal headline said “In Hong Kong, the Apartments Are Fit for a Mosquito.” The Savills Live-Work Index puts the per employee cost to companies for home and office space to $123,000. That’s not counting paying them. Everything has to be imported pushing costs higher. The question is how do non-bankers get by?

Top Cities 2013 - Hong Kong

1. Luanda, Angola

The seemingly unlikely heavyweight wallet muncher is this African seaport and oil hub. Angola has become the second largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa so foreign workers are flocking in. Most of the city’s population of five million lives in destitution on about five dollars a day, but big oil attracts expats with lots of money and expensive tastes. After a lengthy civil war, decent housing is scarce and a decent place costs almost $7000 a month. Anything imported is ridiculous. Think those jeans were expensive in Zurich? They’re $250 here. Food is double the New York price. Transparency International ranks Angola as the 14th most corrupt country in the world. Seems officials have lost track of five billion in oil money over the last decade down their pants somewhere. But hey, Marlboro are a buck ninety a pack.

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com