As a boy, he sang in the Coventry Cathedral Boys Choir, where he received musical training. He studied music at King's College, Cambridge and went on to learn conducting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where his teachers included Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Edward Downes.
In 1982, he received a position on the musical staff of the English National Opera, remaining there until 1987. From 1987 to 1990, he was music director of Opera Factory. From 1990 to 1997, he was Musical Director of Opera North and Principal Conductor of the English Northern Philharmonia. He became Music Director of the English National Opera in September 1997 and resigned in 2005. He became Guest Conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra in April 2006, then Principal Conductor in January 2009. In July 2012, the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine announced the appointment of Daniel as its next Music Director, effective with the 2013-2014 season. Since 2013 principal conductor of Real Filharmonía De Galicia.
He has two daughters from his past marriage to soprano Joan Rodgers, which ended in divorce.