Daniel Harding says he’s taking a year out to fly a commercial jet

Daniel Harding says he’s taking a year out to fly a commercial jet


norman lebrecht

August 23, 2019

Next you fly Air France, fasten your seatbelt with extra care as the pilot may be a conductor.

Daniel Harding, on a farewell tour with the Orchestre de Paris, has told El Pais that he has qualified as a commercial aviator and will be taking a sabbatical to fly for Air France. ‘Since I was a child I dreamed of flying planes, but my dedication to music prevented me,’ he said.

‘In the spring I will join Air France as a co-pilot and in 2020/21 I will take a sabbatical as an orchestra conductor to apply myself to flying.’

Among other knock-on effects, that strikes him off the Concertgebouw shortlist. He has also deleted his accounts on social media.

Other flying maestros:


any more?



  • flying says:

    Klaus Florian Vogt is also flying ..

  • Pedro says:

    I hope he keeps flying until the rest of his days and forget conducting, which is not his speciality.

  • Dick says:

    Hopefully he’s a more talented pilot. His ego got many good orchestra musicians fired.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      You need to substantiate that statement. I have observed DH working very happily on both sides with the LSO, the Swedish radio orchestra and the Orchestre de Paris. Some of the perjorative comments on this post are decidedly subjective.

      • Toby-wan-canoby says:

        You observed what you recognized as a happy relation.There are very few jobs. Do you really believe that any musician would reveal what they really think and jeopardize putting food on the table? And to a famous music critic? Can you imagine: well Norman, my name is nn and I think DH is an extremely unpleasant bully. An orchestra is an odd thing. It’s difficult to know what is really happening if you can’t observe it from the inside.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Actually, early in his career he did have a reputation for being somewhat arrogant and dismissive of the players; one of the reasons his career never really took-off in the US. Of course, nothing as extreme as some of the conductors of the 1960s. I never heard he got anyone fired (which seems unlikely, he would have to be music director, and even then it would be difficult). I would suggest his behaviour is more ‘youthful immaturity’ rather than “deep-down-nasty”. By all accounts his behaviour has become more mature over the years.

  • Musician says:

    Mikhail Pletnev has his own helicopter in Switzerland which he flies himself.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli was a military pilot during WWII.

  • Mike says:

    Stefan Sanderling I believe –

  • Shirin Lim says:

    Eduardo Mata

  • Whoopsiedoodle says:

    American conductor Michael Christie is a pilot as well.

  • erich says:

    The world of music will survive. Let’s just hope the passengers will as well!

  • Andrew Preview says:

    He should spend that time to study music. More necessary than flying. He needs it.

  • Edgar Self says:

    like Shirin Lim, I thought of Eduardo Mata of the Dallas Symphony, who died with a friend in the crash of his small plane flying back to Mexico City.

  • Gustavo says:

    The late James Horner.

  • Juliette says:

    As if he would ever be on the Concertgebouworkest list…haha, no way José. Unfortunately I had to play under him a few times and I can tell you this: he is by far one of the most overrated conductors of all times. Glad to know he left the music scene and flew away, hopefully for good.

  • Gustavo says:

    Shame on Harding!

    Doesn’t he feel Flygskam?

  • Caravaggio says:

    No conductor but tenor Michael Fabiano is a certified pilot.

  • Keith Weber says:

    Michael Christie

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Pianist Gerhard Oppitz.

  • NOrbert says:

    The King of Holland flew anonymously for many years for KLM, then it got out.


    • Petros Linardos says:

      Rajiv Gandhi few anonymously for Air India until his brother’s death in 1980.

    • Peter Freeman says:

      There is no King of Holland, but there IS a King of the Netherlands. North and South Holland are provinces of the Netherlands.

  • Simon Scott says:

    Also the violinist Lorenzo Gatto is a qualified pilot

  • Bruno maricon says:

    I heard his flying is bit better then his conducting …but then again that’s not a compliment sorry to say ha

  • AlanC says:

    Conductor Dima Slobodeniouk is also a licensed pilot.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    So a fair number of musicians who are licensed pilots. But none of them are licensed *commercial airliner* pilots (or, co-pilots).

    • Max Grimm says:

      Technically, neither does Harding.
      Harding has a CPL (Commercial Pilot License), which, in very very broad terms, grants the holder the right to earn money piloting an aircraft, but is very restricted in terms of the type of flying, the types of aircraft and the number of passengers the license-holder may carry (in the UK for example it’s less than 9). So, as of yet, he is not licensed to pilot what most probably imagine under the term “commercial airliner”.
      In order to pilot those aircraft, so called “multi-crew aircraft” – planes that are mandated to be crewed by 2 or more pilots, ie. Captain & First Officer (colloquially Pilot & Co-Pilot) – one must hold an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) and then, a Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL), requiring further theoretical and practical training, examinations and a certain number of flight hours on relevant aircraft types and under relevant conditions.
      It is this certification process that Harding will undergo at Air France.

  • Anton Bruckner says:

    The flying dutchman?
    But seriously this is an odd move. The romantic days of flying have long gone. It is more like being a bus driver nowadays. This seems like the end of his conducting career.

  • Sander says:

    Pianist Roberto Cominati is an Alitalia pilot.

  • Edgar says:

    Now let’s hope that the Air France pilots won’t call for a strike while Daniel joins them…

  • Rob says:

    Well his Mahler isn’t too hot. Wasn’t Karajan taking flying lessons too? Too bad we didn’t get a Mahler 8 from Karajan, it would have been amazing. Imagine the cast from the Solti recording!

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Just an opinion, but I think the cast is better for Mahler 8 on the old Kubelik recording. The Solti cast is too operatic for my tastes, and there’s a huge mismatch between the soft-edged singing of the Viennese choral forces, and the sharp edged, almost ‘brittle’ sounding Chicago brass. It’s technically good, but I find the older Bernstein, Kubelik and Abravanel recordings more emotionally ‘moving’ and humane.

  • Patricia says:

    RYAN RICE, former principal flutist of Sarasota Opera and Louisianna Phil – among others. Now pilot for Envoy Air.

    • Ryan Rice says:

      Thanks for the mention. There are a few of us that used to make a living solely as a musician that now fly commercially for the airlines – I’ve met at least two others at Envoy alone. It’s an odd niche, but we do exist.

      If it matters to anyone reading this, I captain an Embraer 175 (76 seats) for Envoy Air, which operates as American Eagle.

      If you spend enough time in airports, you’ll see pilots carrying all sorts of musical instruments, from guitars and violins, to the odd french horn and even a flute here and there.

  • Nathaniel Rosen says:

    Cellist Peter Rejto.

  • Lawrence Renes!!! Wonderful conductor, and very skilled aviator.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Without wishing to be too cruel, I’ve always thought that’s what he was doing each time he fronted an orchestra!

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    That means he may not take part in Amsterdam & Leipzig Mahler festivals.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Eduardo Mata.

    But he crashed his plane.

    Won’t be flying on Air France next year thank you very much.

    Hope he’s not piloting a 737 MAX

  • Bone says:

    Pedestrian point A to point B flights with no memorable details should be expected.

  • SVM says:

    Let us hope he will use his clout as a pilot to insist that musicians be allowed to take instruments in the cabin (and that ‘cello seat reservations are honoured).

  • gregorio moppi says:

    Another flying musica is the Italian pianist Roberto Cominati, who pilotes planes for Alitalia.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Eduardo Mata was another one.

  • Clemens says:

    Does anyone ever have anything nice to say about other people? Why are so many people so bitter? Be as it be, he is an honest musician, someone with an image and can grab the sound and make it something, even with established resistance. Something we should all be grateful for in a world of technically fulfilling individuals.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    An overall very fascinating tv documentary on Karajan, “Beauty as I see it”, touching on his activity as airplane pilot. Renee Kollo mentions that he himself had done some flying (!), and that Karajan had a co-pilot who would compensate for any omissions. Anne Sofie Mutter mentions he drop altitude like a madman. And Christa Ludwig thought the plane couldn’t fall because “Karajan was inside”. And there are gorgeous shots of the Karajan plane flying over the alps, with the Alpensinfonie as background music. Most entertaining.

    See 42:44ff at

  • kuma says:

    Hope he flies better than conducting an orchestra.

  • Donald Wright says:

    Pianists Zlata Chochieva and Daniel Kharitonov are also pilots, though not commercially as far as I am aware …

  • Novagerio says:

    Dima Slobodeniouk

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    Very overrated with or without a pilot’s license.

  • Andrew says:

    Bruce Dickenson, lead singer of heavy metal band Iron Maiden, is also a commercial pilot. He’s worked for several airlines between tours and recordings.

    • Gus says:

      Also owned their own plane, called Iron Maiden, flew on it once to a skiing holiday as it was charted out – never met the pilot.

  • Roman says:

    I’m surprised how many old hags with no taste proliferate in the comment sections of this website.
    Those who say Harding is a bad conductor have either not heard more than 3 minute of his conducting, or they are 89 years old and Karajan worshippers.
    I don’t know of any modern conductor who does classical period repertoire better nowadays. He has done some amazing recordings as well. Please check out his Symphonie Fantastique recording with the Swedish Radio Orchestra. Or his Schuman 2nd on Youtube from the Proms. Best recordings ever for both, and I know all the top recordings of these pieces.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It’s unbelievable what efforts performers go through to be absolutely certain that they won’t be too late for their engagements.

  • Stweart says:

    Reading many of the above makes me wonder – who the hell is flying my plane ?
    Do doctors moonlight too ?

  • Heather says:

    Of course there’s Bruce Dickenson of Iron Maiden (I’m sure most who are reading this somewhat rarified newsfeed may have to look them up); commercial pilot but also does WWI dogfights in a tri-plane. Once saw him at a Duxford Airshow.

  • Dougie says:

    See interview published on 14 Sep 19 on the Berlin Phil’s Digital Concert Hall for more details.