Daniel Harding has just been appointed musical director of the orchestra and choir of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, but there are already many projects to be carried out in Rome starting from October 2024, when he will take office: we start with a ‘Tosca’ to inaugurate its first season. It will be Puccini’s year and ‘Tosca’ is the most Roman of Giacomo Puccini’s operas. The performance will be recorded by Deutsche Grammophon, kicking off a new recording collaboration project of the very important label with Santa Cecilia. Harding will also bring the orchestra and choir to the Roman basilicas with programs of sacred music, starting with Verdi’s Requiem. “When they told me how many churches there are in Rome I didn’t want to believe it” said the master during the presentation of his assignment, which will last at least five years. The repertoire of 19th- and 20th-century masterpieces will be central to his programs, including a complete cycle of Mahler’s symphonies, but the space for contemporary music will also be fundamental, with a particular focus on English composers, Harding announced.
“Music is for everyone”
What will he do to bring new audiences to his concerts?
“We have to communicate the message that music is for everyone. What we do here belongs to everyone, in the city and beyond. I would like everyone to feel welcome. We will play a wide repertoire, different things, there will be something for everyone. We do everything possible to communicate and share them and we hope to see many people and from all backgrounds.”
Harding is 47 years old and is an international star of the podium: he has conducted a large number of the best orchestras and has been frequenting Italy for many years, where he has also conducted at La Scala and La Fenice. You have been working with Santa Cecilia since 1997, but you say: “I definitely fell in love with this orchestra when we played Strauss last June: they know how to convey their enthusiasm for making music and the level is extremely high. There is nothing that cannot be performed with the orchestra and choir of Santa Cecilia.”
The bond with Abbado
There is also another connection of Harding’s with Italy, perhaps the deepest one. At 19, the promising conductor was Claudio Abbado’s assistant in Berlin.
What are your thoughts on Abbado today?
“Claudio Abbado was the greatest conductor I’ve known in my life. He was the most important figure to me when I was young. When I discovered what a conductor was, he was an inspiration. I think a lot of my musical journey and my priorities I got from him, I hope at least.”
The president and superintendent of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia, Michele dall’Ongaro also speaks of a continuation of Abbado’s values: “Daniel Harding is one of the most important musicians around – he tells us – he is an exceptional talent and also inherits a idea of music, for example from Claudio Abbado, which we like and is inclusion, involvement of young people, openness towards contemporary art, towards an ever more heated internationalisation. For us he is the right person, for the rigorous but smiling way he has of dealing with the musical fact. ”
The current musical director, Antonio Pappano, who has successfully led the orchestra and choir of Santa Cecilia for eighteen years, also intervened with a video at the presentation of the new musical director. In his good luck to his younger colleague, he underlined the generosity of the musicians of Santa Cecilia and their ability to convey their love for music. “The orchestra needs a personality and Daniel is a personality,” concluded Pappano.
A pilot director
In addition to your art, you are also known as an Air France pilot…
“When I’m on the podium I face a hundred musicians who depend on me but when I’m driving I’m part of a team. This different way of seeing the result to be achieved is very interesting for me.”
After the official presentation, the artists greeted each other: a delegation from the Santa Cecilia teams wanted to physically embrace the new director: a gift to unwrap, a few selfies, joyful smiles and applause. “To start off on the right foot,” one of them said.