Exclusive: What Daniel Harding told the Orchestre de Paris

Exclusive: What Daniel Harding told the Orchestre de Paris


norman lebrecht

January 31, 2018

We have obtained from inside sources the letter of resignation by music director Daniel Harding that was read out yesterday to musicians of the Orchestre de Paris. It is a positive, upbeat letter. He is leaving on good terms.

The main reason for his resignation is, briefly, that he came to the conclusion that if he proceeded with his plans for the orchestra he would risk changing its character – and that is the last thing he wanted to do. As one friend puts it: ‘If he had stayed it would have  been a kind of reconstructive surgery on something that really doesn’t need it, that is already a supreme example of its own style.’

This is a principled resignation for purely artistic reasons. His letter to the orchestra is unspun and from the heart. You read it here first.


I have enjoyed immensely my time with you so far.  Every week has taught me something; primarily musical, but also to admire and respect you as a group of musicians and professionals. Some of those weeks have been unforgettable and count amongst my strongest musical experiences to date. Amongst those I feel compelled to mention the Dream of Gerontius last December, during which your commitment and dedication to the music, the beauty of your playing and the sensitivity of your accompaniment and storytelling will remain with me always.

We also have a great number of projects to come about which I am very excited and am sure will provide many moments of unforgettable music making.

When I am back I will be more than happy to talk with any of you who wish to discuss my reasons for this decision, for now let me keep it brief.

I don’t see this in any way as a negative decision. I came to you when we were largely completely unknown to one another. Getting to know you is a fascinating and inspiring process. My strong feeling is that the best of our collaboration is an exchange of different musical backgrounds, and a discovery together of new repertoire for the orchestra and some different perspectives on more familiar repertoire. You are a supreme expression of a musical culture that is not mine. For this reason I think that a number of years together will be very productive and inspiring. Beyond that I would find myself wanting to turn the Alps into the Grand Canyon, because I came looking for something other than is your nature. Far better to have a wonderful time discovering that which you are, and seeing what I can offer you as observation to help you on your journey: and then to move on with happy memories. To change your musical nature would be an act of destruction, and I will not do it.

I have offered to Bruno (already when I first spoke to him about this decision) that I stay in the season subsequent to my contract (19/20) for 4 or 5 weeks and perhaps a tour. I will relinquish my title, but will be there to help with anything you may wish of me and to show you and the outside world that there is no rupture or problem. My intention is to continue making music with you regularly for as long as you wish that to be the case.



  • herrera says:

    “It’s not you, it’s me.”

  • BP says:

    Was the letter read in French ? Harding speaks, and presumably writes it near fluently (though in this case I guess he wanted to be as precise and thorough as possible).
    I heard him say in interview recently taking up an orchestra was akin to taking a watch apart completely and putting it back together. It seems he thought the better of it. Meanwhile the Orchestre is still left unsettled.

  • alec johnston says:

    This is a very special kind of way to announce a separation. Very clear, very straightforward and seemingly very open and honest.

    • Winger says:

      I disagree – I don’t find this to be clear or straightforward, at all. I find it remarkably vague. What on earth is he talking about?

  • Clovis Marques says:

    I wonder what could be these differences of “musical culture”

  • Petros Linardos says:

    How extensively did Harding and the Orchestre de Paris work together before his appointment?

    • anon says:

      not much, by Harding’s own telling, the first time, 20 years ago, he debuted disastrously as a young man, then in 2016 when he was called back, they hit it off, basically one blind date, and then a one-night stand that went exceedingly well, then Paris proposed, Harding accepted, they got married, and Harding asked for a divorce before the first anniversary

      • Petros Linardos says:

        A first class one night stand does not necessarily mean compatibility for marriage. Don’t orchestras know that? Doesn’t it make much more sense to promote the principal guest conductor or hire someone with a long connection? LPO/Jurowski and Philharmonia/Salonen instantly come to my mind.

  • herrera says:

    1) “You are a supreme expression of a musical culture that is not mine.”

    What musical culture does Harding belong to that is so different from that of his 9 foreign predecessors who took the job without feeling, well, foreign? Munch (Franco-German), Karajan (Austrian), Solti (Hungarian/British), Barenboim (Argentine/Israeli), Bychkov (Soviet-American), Dohnanyi (German), Eschenbach (German), Jaarvi (Estonian)?

    2) “To change your musical nature would be an act of destruction, and I will not do it.”

    Is Harding implying that each of his predecessors destroyed the Paris sound, or that they failed to do it but he feared he could do it?

    • Django says:

      There you go again, making presumptions and uneducated guesses. Is it to demonstrate your ‘knowledge’ of dates and details of famous Musical Directors? Including their nationalities? Thanks, but no one here needs to be reminded which country Karajan, Barenboim,or Jaarvi comes from…why this need to show off? Does Slipped Disc offer a prize for ‘most correct list of musical director’s country of origin’? And this tendency to pass judgement on matters you have no true knowledge of? Very unattractive trait in a mélomane.

      • herrera says:

        Looks like Harding has at least one diehard fan in Paris who’d be willing to relocate across the Channel with him. Let’s hope it’s not au revoir, but adieu.

      • herrera says:

        Let me translate his letter for you: “Vous êtes bizarres, les Français.”

    • buxtehude says:

      @Herrera — I think you’re on to something, this cloud of admiration and self-sacrifice hints at concealment of something more normal, as in he started making changes and ran into a brick wall.

      • Django says:

        @Buxtehude ‘Cloud of admiration’? What exactly is that? @Herrera what makes you think I am even living in France? Making uneducated guesses all over the place, very unattractive. Are any of your people professional
        Musicians? If yes, have you personally worked with DH? Making presumptions and suggesting conspiracies, in the style of Trump supporters accusing Soros of being te ultimate Dark Lord…Some of the comments here are turning Slipped Disc into a cheap tabloid which surely is not Norman’s intention.
        Bravo to all those who had the professionalism and decency of making positive comments in support of the real Musicians concerned in this article.

        • buxtehude says:

          If you can imagine Admiration as a clear or grayish liquid, then “cloud of admiration” would be what emerges from a vaporizer and rises into the sky back-lit by mother sun.

          PS: Herrera is as nothing compared to me, I am Rupert Murdoch!

      • John Borstlap says:

        I think this is, after all, the most likely reason, and a very simple one: not being able to work with an orchestra. Or the other way around. These things are subjective and either it clicks or it doesn’t. Nothing special.

    • Bruce says:

      Having decided to take Harding at his word and believe what he’s saying, I understood him to mean something like: he has an orchestral sound-concept in his head that does not fit the Orchestre de Paris’s already-formed sound profile. He respects that for what it is, and sees the value in not changing the sound of one of the world’s great orchestras just because he has the job and it’s in his nature. (Imagine an American conductor coming to Paris and hiring an American principal oboist.)

      Possibly the other foreign music directors you mention either (a) were happy with the orchestra’s characteristic sound, (b) didn’t have a sound concept that they wanted to impress on the orchestra, or (c) had one and didn’t have any qualms about imposing it; so either way it wasn’t an issue.

      For example : I have noticed, based on recordings, that Solti and Karajan had characteristic “sounds” no matter what orchestra they were conducting, the same way that a pianist sounds like himself/ herself no matter what piano they’re playing on. When I was growing up, Solti and Chicago were synonymous, like Karajan and Berlin. Once Solti left, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Chicago’s string section is capable of sounding sumptuous. Or that Berlin, post-Karajan, could sound light and agile, and not just thick & glossy.

      Of course it’s possible (even probable) that as Bux suggested, he wanted to make changes and ran into resistance.

      • Django says:

        @Bruce merci for a much more civilized and well presented comment. Much more relevant than the bizarre descriptions of vapors and liquids, grey or otherwise. What is strange to me is this desire (from some) to use this forum to gossip and tittle tattle as if we are a bunch of housewives gleefully interpreting the latest tabloid announcement of Kim Kardashian’s activities. Sad!

  • Robert Holmén says:

    When they say his name out loud in France, do they pronounce the H?

  • BP says:

    — “I adore you, and you’re wonderful, and you deserve someone great, but we should just be friends.”

    — Unilateral conscious uncoupling.

    — The Perils Of Shotgun Weddings

    — I prefer flying. And my less hot girlfriend, who treats me like I’m the world’s seventh wonder. Also these hotter girls I’m hoping to get serious with one day.

    • Django says:

      Wow, that is really low, attacking the personal life of DH. Did you try to seduce him in order to further your career and was rejected because he is a gentleman and a professional? Or did he fail to notice your existence when you asked for a autograph after a concert? Why the personal attack? Not knowing anything about you it is difficult to assess where the venom comes from, in any case, it is ugly.

      • buxtehude says:

        This was Not a personal attack.

        • Django says:

          That is your opinion. Negative comments regarding the private life is out of place. Unless this is the sort of forum where ill-informed amateur opinions and petty jealousies of the frustrated wanna-be’s are welcomed.

          • buxtehude says:

            It seems you have trouble with English reading comprehension. Metaphor, hyperbole, irony & other such devices throw you for a loop (if you are not pretending). That’s one thing

            To attack people because of your own misperceptions of what they’ve written makes you look bad. That’s the main thing.

          • Bruce says:

            “Unless this is the sort of forum where ill-informed amateur opinions and petty jealousies of the frustrated wanna-be’s are welcomed.”

            LOLOL. Welcomed? They’re practically a requirement!

          • Patrick Gillot says:

            Enough of your rant. Calm down and show some sense of humour as you are getting us bored!

        • Django says:

          Perhaps it is a question of language. English is my third. However, as a Musician, I find many of the comments here lacking in real solidarity and good intention. If this is a place uniting professional musicians and amateur music mélomanes, one would think a more supportive tone would be applied during discussions about Musicians and Musical Institutions. Our industry needs real friends and true supporters. Not ironic smart ass individuals proud off their linguistic flair and ‘intellect’. It’s rather pathetic and sad. I am done here. Some people
          seem to have way too much free time to spend on metaphors and hyperboles, detecting conspiracies and listing conductor’s cv’s…etc. obviously a favorite pastime for certain people here. Bonne continuation!

      • BP says:

        Dear Django : a) I was clearly comparing a conductor’s relationship to an orchestra with that of a couple. b) I respect Harding and have enjoyed his work in Paris, but a conductor leaving an orchestra he alledgedly has a good rapport with after three years is unusual and will inevitably get people talking. And frankly, I don’t think I was unfair.

        • herrera says:

          Django is a very troubled soul, who’s crying out for help, who deserves our pity.

          • Django says:

            Indeed, since I have read your comments my soul is troubled. Though pity is not necessary, keep that for your self, when you will discover no one cares if you have memorized the dates of birth and nationalities of famous musicians. Wanna be’s are the ones needing the most pity. You are clearly not a professional musician. Perhaps you always wished you were, those who criticize real musicians harshly are either bitter has-beens or frustrated wanna-be’s. I think you are the latter. Either way, you are the most troubled soul of all those who commented here. It is not me, it’s you. I am done with this forum. Some of us actually have to practice for real concerts.

          • anon says:

            We all noticed. Is there a psychiatrist in the house?

          • John Borstlap says:

            We have one here, but he is quite expensive. But very effective! After 20 sessions I began to eat much less.


  • Vaquero357 says:

    Um, yeah. Orchestre de Paris – not a poor orchestra by most standards. But an ensemble with a unique character? Naw, not really.

    Harding had buyers remorse and chose to break up in the nicest, classiest way possible – “It’s not you, it’s me” – but in the end it’s still a rejection.

  • Psychiatrist says:

    I have enjoyed reading SD for some time but occasionally ugly exchanges occur. They usually involve mails written by people who clearly regard their contributions as intellectual, clever and admirable. I see them differently and would like to point out that at the heart of all conversations on SD are actual people. Please remember that. Musicians are unusual people with unusual abilities and they bring great pleasure to many people sometimes at great cost to themselves. Musicians always bring me enjoyment while high minded intellectuals with an inability to grasp the subtleties of reality never do.