Soft landing for Daniel Harding in Rome

Soft landing for Daniel Harding in Rome


norman lebrecht

March 06, 2023

The British conductor and part-time Air France pilot is being unveiled this afternoon as the next music director of the orchestra and chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

He succeeds Antonio Pappano, who has held the post since 2005.

Harding, 47, will take up the baton in October 2024 for a five-year term, starting with centennial performances of Puccini’s Tosca. Deutsche Grammophon will record the opera as a springboard for a new partnership with Harding and Santa Cecilia.

Harding will leave his present post with Swedish Radio in 2025.

He says: ‘It is a beautiful gift to be given the chance to become Music Director of a world class orchestra of such ambition in a city of incomparable historical and cultural significance.’

It marks a significant reboot of his career after recent flying distractions.


  • Giora says:

    Good match? Not sure at all…

  • Koko says:

    We will miss him in Stockholm!

  • GUEST says:

    So now, if he’d like, he can quit his day job. Wait: Which one IS that?

    • Emil says:

      If he’s still conducting at a high level, who cares? There are so many conductors performing every other night or more, jet setting all over the world with no real time to study scores, etc. Artistic ideas don’t come on command, they need time to marinate, etc. If Harding has a lighter pace of conducting, is that so disastrous?

  • MacroV says:

    Given that he was just in Berlin the other week and that he leads a great orchestra in Stockholm, I would question there is anything that requires a “reboot.” And no indication that he’ll stop flying.

  • Ed says:

    He is great. I wish he would visit the US more.

  • Gustavo says:

    ‘Cause he’s a…roamer.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I’m sorry, but I don’t want to fly on a 777 with a pilot who is part time. It’s a bit like a part time brain surgeon.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Don’t worry, they’re required to keep up so many hours, and to put in plenty of hours on flight simulators as well. Nobody is allowing untrained or ‘rusty’ captains to fly passengers. That’s not to say all captains are the same. They’re human, like most everyone else. And like anyone else, they can have good days and not so good days. But by and large, the standards are very, very high.

    • Alan says:

      No it’s not. You clearly haven’t the first idea of what being a pilot entails. The notion that anyone can fly a plane on their own terms is patently ridiculous.

    • Player says:

      Wasn’t your beloved Carlos Kleiber a part-time conductor? Just saying…

      • Gustavo says:

        Karajan was also many things: a pilot, a director, a member of the NSDAP, a narcissist, a record label, a street name, etc, etc.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Yes, but the stick he waved wasn’t attached to a 777.

        Good luck to DH all the same!! He’s obviously multi-skilled.

  • Pedro says:

    Florence and Milan are the places to in Italy. Harding conducted Don Giovanni in Salzburg in 2006. My favourite opera. It was a disaster. No match for Böhm, Karajan, Muti, Maazel and Gergiev, Nézer-Séguin and Eschenbach which I have also heard there. Even Harnoncourt was much better.

    • Don Pedro says:

      I was under the strange impression that opera is more about the singers on stage, as well as the actual production. Thus, I have difficulty believing that any orchestra playing in the pit at the Salzburg Festival is going to struggle with a Mozart opera. And given that “Don Giovanni” is a ‘through composed’ opera, I also have trouble believing that the work gave Harding a lot of stumbling blocks. Maybe so, but I would want some evidence of that. The singers, more likely.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Late in his life Solti had said that few conductors knew how to conduct opera. I suppose this includes properly supporting the singers, rhythmically and dynamically, following their nuances, providing continuity, etc. no small tasks. If you focus only on singers on stage, you are missing a lot of fun and a lot of musical commentary from the orchestra.

  • Samach says:

    Time to apply to Alitalia.

    Who knew it’s easier to switch jobs as a conductor than as a pilot?

    Let’s recall the reason he gave when he quit Paris: their sound was incompatible with his vision (sorry for the mixed metaphor, but it’s essentially what he said).

    So why are Stockholm and Rome so much more compatible, and different from Paris?

    The man is too talented for his own good, sometimes sticking to one profession is probably best to cure unproductive wanderlust.

  • trumpetherald says:

    Congrats,Daniel!!!!!You are one of the very best!!!!Love playing for you!

  • Robin says:

    Daniel Harding is obviously a very intelligent and clever person. Good on him. You don’t get to be an airline pilot by collecting enough box tops of your favourite breakfast cereal. But seeing his success does raise the question that given a good knowledge of the music, and some conducting practice, couldn’t anyone become a conductor? Take any major work of the classical repertoire which an orchestra has played over and over again, what’s the big deal about the conductor if he/she gets them to start and finish together?

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Yes and no (mostly no). In the old days, conductors learned the basics of conducting in the opera pit. The thinking was that if you can keep everything together and on schedule with opera, you’ll have the basic tools for conducting symphonic music. It’s a logical assumption, but not everyone made the transition smoothly. Today, conductors come up pretty much the same way as solo instrumentalists and vocalists do: by studying with big-names and winning competitions. Then – as NL so frequently posts here – the winners get picked up by various classical music agencies. Of course, word of mouth helps too. Orchestras and opera companies have to book everyone at least a year or two in advance, so ‘up and coming’ talent gets competed over. Now here’s where the ‘no’ part comes in. . . . Every once in a while, a big-name instrumentalist or singer gets bent out-of-shape over the general level of conductors out there, and then gets the notion that they can do just as well or better. Sometimes they do, in fact, do really well. But in many cases, these converted instrumentalists/singers find out the hard way that it’s really not so easy at all (to do it well, that is). I’m sure you can think of a few examples of this yourself. Soooo, while I often times feel that the differences between conductors gets exaggerated, it is a human endeavor that’s pretty much the same as any other human endeavor: some people are better at it than others.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      The VIenna Philharmonic has recorded Beethoven symphonies under different conductors. The interpretations vary widely.

    • Jerry says:

      The goal of the conductor is actually not to give cues to players (especially when conducting good orchestras) but to give his own interpretation of the piece…it’s way more an artistic job than a technical one. And you need a conductor for that purpose.

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        As a player, I can tell that is indeed helpful to get cues in newer works that are not already well known. It’s not always a case of either/or.

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    Not a big surprise. He did several works in the past in Italy at La Scala for Cavalleria rusticana, at la Feneice for the Capodanno concerto. He even went once at the Festival of San Remo I remember. I will be curious to see if he will choose audacious programms like he did with success or less sucess in Paris. Anyway Santa Cecilia is a marvelous orchestra I like to see in concerts with a rare kind of sweetness.

  • Mark says:

    This is a big surprise!!!

    Santa Cecilia is one of the finest orchestras around. Over the last few years they have managed to combine wonderful Italian musicality with technical perfection. They have an amazing list of past music directors: Pappano, Ferrara, Markevitch, Sinopoli, Gatti.

    DH on the other hand… Well, I cannot remember any performances by him that would be particularly inspiring. And can someone name any major prizes he has won for his recordings? He was famous for being particularly unpleasant to even some of the best musicians and the best orchestras around such as London’s Philharmonia or Vienna Philharmonic. He could get away with a lot being a son of an Oxford don, a protege of Rattle and placed in Rattle’s agency. His sense of entitlement was legendary in London. Frankly – his commitment to music has been far less impressive than that of his mentor’s.

    He has never had any formal training in conducting. After he graduated from Chetham’s School he failed to secure a place at Cambridge University even with his father’s connections. He was lucky back then to get that invitation from Rattle and only after that he got a place to study in Cambridge. (BTW he would not have had a chance to put that Pierrot Lunaire recording together for Rattle if it was not for his parents bombarding the school with letters demanding permission to organise a school ensamble for that performance).

    But then he left the university just after one year. Just compare that to Rattle, who had formal conducting training at Royal Academy where he graduated at the age of 19, had to compete in John Player conducting competition and then went on to complete a degree course in English Literature at Oxford University.

    Interesting how Harding’s debut with CBSO looked like? Rattle was invited to conduct a masterclass on Bartok’s “Miraculous Mandarin” at Birmingham Conservatoire about a month before. But he put Harding on the podium instead and what was to be a masterclass for students, booked and paid by the college from their college fees, was turned into a conducting lesson for Harding. Then a few weeks later Harding conducted the piece with CBSO in a concert which was fully rehearsed and by Rattle who conducted himself other works. Harding did not have to do any rehearsing on Bartok since the orchestra had it already well rehearsed and recorded for EMI.

    Can somebody name any core repertoire recordings by him that could be described as exemplary or iconic? Harding has never had to compete against other conductors or complete any formal training beyond A-levels.

    This is a really strange decision and one which undermines the trust in the present state of the conducting profession.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Wasn’t young Harding a protege of Abbado? Abbado was in a position of strength from the 90s on. BTW, I don’t have an opinion ih Harding.

  • Hector says:

    Good for Harding! For the record, not surprised Slippedisc is just full of toxic “music-lovers” commenting reflections of their own insecurities or frustrations. Let people do as they wish, fly airplanes, conduct, cook, dance, who cares? We’re all here for a limited time anyway. Just enjoy it while it lasts people.

    • Mister Bee says:

      A lovely, generous comment from Hector – thank heaven there are still some on Slipped Disc who, instead of hurling vitriol at them, are prepared to offer thanks to our music-makers who, imperfectly human as they may be, help to make our short lives more bearable…..

      • Mark says:

        Well, a nice, but rather naive point of view.

        People can fly airplanes, conduct, cook and dance. Why not? They can do that in their own time. When they are generously rewarded for some of those activities from the public purse they should offer some decent quality and vision in return.

        We used to have some of the finest musicians at the top of the world’s most respected music institutions – musicians with long term vision for their profession and the development of classical music. People like Rattle, Bernstein, Barenboim, Solti had years of experience under their belt and clear vision for the future of classical music and its impact on the society at large. These days there are more and more people who are very young or with years of very limited commitment to the larger impact of classical music, but focused solely on their own careers, being put in positions of power in classical music. If you have a 20+ conductor as the music director of a national institution then who is pulling the strings? Is it his/her own vision and passion for music that drives that establishment or is it his/her agents who are running the show from the back seat? It seems like these musical figures are just pegs on which international agencies pin their influence to make more and more money. We can see many careers these days which are clearly built on some joint deals – an agency has just few major stars and uses them as a leverage to promote some less impressive musical figures from their stable.

        A  very destructive thing happened to the classical music industry in the 1990s. After the brilliant careers of young Rattle and Salonen, many agencies wanted to cash on their success and promote their cardboard copies – with heavily promoted image but much lesser content. The comparison of Rattle’s and Harding’s education serves as a good example (I still wonder how orchestral musicians feel these days, when after years of laborious and expensive study they have to bow to the musical ideas of an undereducated conductor).

        There are now some really clear and sad results of that situation. We have more problems besieging classical music and yet fewer public figures who could stand up to decision makers on a number of issues:
        – the budget cuts to orchestras and operas
        – abuse of artists’ rights by streaming services
        – music education.
        About the last point – we have such a large pile of scientific evidence proving that music is the absolutely crucial element of modern education to make it relevant to the contemporary workplace. It has been proven that we need more creativity and skills in many modern jobs, which music education offers. And yet we have very few public figures who would use that evidence to stop the decline of music education worldwide.

        So, looking at the above – do you think that someone once described as a “prodigy [who] ages into a merely young conductor” would be the right person to use his position at the helm of one of the finest orchestras in the world to fight successfully for those issues?

        Conducting used to be much more than just waving your hands skillfully in front of musicians who know their instruments very well and can sight read almost any piece from the mainstream repertoire.

        • MartinJ says:

          Gosh you do like the sound of your own typing don’t you…

        • Turmalin says:

          Honestly, if you are saying that DH has been only thinking of his career and a position of power in music all the while spending the past 15 years being music director in Stockholm…? Then I disagree. I think he wants to do music his way. Like it or not.

        • Mark Mortimer says:

          Quite Mark- there are far too many ‘baby boy’ conductors around today who are hopeless & totally ill equipped to stand in front of major orchestras- who play much better than they conduct in any case. As u say- conducting is for the older & wiser.

  • What happened? says:

    Wait what? I thought it was Gatti?