During the September 1996 Berlin Festival, Harding received a quintessential lucky break when conductor Franz Welser-Möst
fell ill. Without a rehearsal, he took over the podium in a program of Berlioz
's Corsair Overture, Brahms
' Double Concerto, and Dvorák
's Symphony No. 8 in G major. The critic of the Berlin Zeitung said that after a momentary sense of nervousness at the start of the concert, Harding led the overture with verve and authority. She praised his alert and sympathetic accompanying of the two soloists in the concerto, and his grasp and elucidation of an over-all line in the symphony while still attentive to the work's details.
He has guest conducted widely and also conducted opera, leading Janácek
's Jenufa (Welsh National Opera) and Mozart
's Don Giovanni (with a touring company featuring the Mahler Chamber Orchestra
). His Royal Opera House debut was in Britten
's Turn of the Screw, and he has been at La Scala a number of times since 2005.
He had something of a dream come true when, in 1998, he returned to the BBC Proms to conduct the Scharoun Ensemble (whose members are drawn from the Berlin Philharmonic
) in Pierrot Lunaire.