One of today’s most consistently acclaimed conductors of opera and symphonic repertoire, Donald Runnicles is Principal Guest Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and holder of its endowed Neil and Sue Williams Chair. He conducts several weeks each season and, as part of the ASO’s Creative Partnership, participates fully in the recording, choral, chamber music, and educational activities of the orchestra. He has been Music Director of the San Francisco Opera since 1992, and is also Principal Conductor of New York’s Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Born in Scotland, he studied at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and the University of Edinburgh and then went to Germany in 1980 to work in opera. He developed his career in the time-honored way, starting as a répétiteur at the small opera house in Mannheim and later becoming General Music Director at the Freiburg Opera.
Maestro Runnicles first conducted the San Francisco Opera in two Wagner Ring cycles in 1990, and was soon invited to become Music Director. He had already made his North American debut in 1988 at a few hours’ notice, conducting Berg’s Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera. As Music Director of the San Francisco Opera, Mr. Runnicles has led more than forty productions, including the world premieres of Conrad Susa’s Dangerous Liaisons and of Michael Korie and Stewart Wallace’s Harvey Milk. Other notable productions included Virgil Thomson’s rarity, The Mother of Us All, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Busoni’s Doktor Faust, and Janá_ek’s fable The Cunning Little Vixen, in addition to a wide variety of repertory staples. In the current season, which kicked off with a gala concert in honor of his 50th birthday, he is conducting Britten’s Billy Budd, Puccini’s Tosca, Wagner’s Fliegende Holländer, and Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame. He has made two recordings with the company – Harvey Milk and the Grammy-nominated Orphée et Eurydice of Gluck – and “Symphony at the Opera” with the SFO Orchestra.
Mr. Runnicles’s unique bond with New York’s esteemed Orchestra of St. Luke’s was apparent from their first concert together, at the 1998 Caramoor Festival. The orchestra’s members soon chose him as their Principal Conductor, to succeed Sir Roger Norrington. He conducts two concerts with the Orchestra this season in Carnegie Hall.
The maestro has ongoing musical relationships with some of the finest orchestras and opera companies in the U.S. and Europe, among them the San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony, and New World Symphony. Last season he conducted his first concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic (with the ASO Chorus) and the Vienna Philharmonic and was immediately invited for return engagements. This February he debuted with the Philadelphia Orchestra. A frequent guest on the podiums of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, North German Radio Orchestra Hamburg, and Bavarian Radio Orchestra, he also appears annually in Great Britain at both the London Proms and Edinburgh Festival, and he has conducted frequently at the Bayreuth and Salzburg festivals. He works annually at the Vienna State Opera and has led opera productions in Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Milan, Munich, Paris, and Zurich.
Mr. Runnicles’s recordings include Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel; a CD of Ring excerpts with the Dresden Staatskapelle; a Grammy-nominated disc of German Romantic opera arias with Ben Heppner; Bellini’s opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi; a CD with soprano Jane Eaglen of works by Strauss, Wagner, and Berg; and both the Beethoven Ninth Symphony and Orff’s Carmina burana with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
Among the many awards bestowed upon him are the Order of the British Empire (OBE), presented to him by the British Consul during his 50th-birthday gala in the name of Queen Elizabeth II, and an honorary degree from Edinburgh University.