Daniel Harding

Written by: Colin Anderson

Daniel Harding is announced as the London Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor. On Sunday 9 January Harding conducts the LSO in Mahler’s Symphony No.4, and he has a new recording of the work about to be issued…

Daniel Harding “wanted to be first trumpet of the LSO. Going with my parents to the Barbican, to the LSO, was inspiring. Conducting started to interest me when I was playing in youth orchestras.” Daniel, now in his late ‘twenties, has been working with the London Symphony Orchestra for ten years and has been appointed Principal Guest Conductor from the 2006 season. “It’s not what I imagined when I was eight! It’s a great chance to develop the relationship, which in the last year has blossomed, to build on that in an intensive way. It’ll be ten to twelve Barbican programmes a year and there’ll be touring on top of that. The job offers the chance to succeed or to fail!” Daniel conducts the LSO next on the 9th.

I ask Daniel about opportunities for young musicians. “I’ve been making music mostly outside of England since I was 19. There are debates in London about the number of orchestras and opera houses; I know that debate well because I lived in Germany and they have the same questions. We produce an incredible number of young supremely able musicians; there’s nothing to match English youth orchestra, anywhere. We have these wonderful orchestras and people are saying there’s not enough money to support them all. If the government destroys music in schools it won’t be a problem: we’re not going to produce enough people to play in orchestras anyway.”

Daniel says he was “ridiculously lucky in terms of who I met and how much help I was given. I took every chance to play in orchestras, to talk to conductors and bug and annoy them. If you want to be a conductor, playing the trumpet is a great choice; you can sit at the back of the orchestra and watch everything that goes on. I played in the National Children’s Orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra; those things are geared to enthusing young people about music.”

As a conductor Daniel believes that “you have to be able to persuade people and make things happen. If you want to learn to conduct, find people who play instruments, get the music from the library, and ask them to play for you: you’ll learn more quickly that way. If you have drive you can make things happen even if there doesn’t seem to be any opportunity. If you’ve got the desire to go out there and do it, you’ll find so many people who want to help.”

Currently Daniel is involved with Mahler, his Symphony No.4. Daniel has a new recording of it about to be issued with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, an intimate, beguiling account (Virgin Classics 5456652). “I did this recording one week and the next week played it with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; the performances were completely different. Any great piece of music can be looked at in many different ways.” This recorded rendition brings out details sometimes submerged and also emphasises Mahler’s use of popular music. “In Mahler, the banal is a very important part of the sublime and much of the music, as in Charles Ives, is an almost direct taking of everyday sounds, like café music. People like to hear Mahler in a wall-to-wall, plush way; it’s sometimes nice to hear more of the music’s conversation.”

Also in the concert is Schumann’s quixotic Violin Concerto, played by the LSO’s leader Gordan Nikolitch. Is it possible to detect the composer’s madness? “The speed for the last movement is extraordinarily slow. You can play it a comfortable speed that kind of sounds right. Some of the madness is in that: the minute the music becomes slower than is comfortable it becomes a whole lot more interesting; it’s very unusual and disconcerting music.”

There’s so much choice today for the creative musician. “I don’t think a musician looks at the range of possibilities and choose what fits; you get to know a piece of music and then there are fewer choices – that’s the kind of conviction that you need. You have to be proud of what you believe in, do it well, and make it available so everybody can try it.”


  • LSO concert, 9 January, Barbican, 7.30
  • LSO
  • Barbican
  • Virgin Classics
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 5 January 2005 and is reproduced here with permission

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