Donald Runnicles © Bettina Stöß
Donald Runnicles, a Scotsman by birth, has held the position of General Music Director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin since 2009. Since 2006 he has headed the Grand Teton Music Festival and been Principal Guest Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He was also Principal Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra from 2009 to 2016, when he assumed the role of “Conductor Emeritus”.
He made his debut at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1989 with Verdi’s IL TROVATORE. In 2007 he created waves with his tour-de-force rendition of two cycles of DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN. Since taking up his post he has presided over the premieres of LES TROYENS, TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, DON CARLO, JENUFA, LOHENGRIN, PARSIFAL, PETER GRIMES, FALSTAFF, BILLY BUDD, LA DAMNATION DE FAUST, LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK DISTRICT, ROMEO AND JULIET, THE MAKROPULOS AFFAIR, DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL, COSI FAN TUTTE, DEATH IN VENICE, DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER and the world premiere of L’INVISIBLE. He has also conducted performances of HÄNSEL AND GRETEL, MANON LESCAUT, DER ROSENKAVALIER, OTELLO, TANNHÄUSER, PELLEAS ET MELISANDE, DON GIOVANNI, TOSCA, DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NÜRNBERG, DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN and other works.
Runnicles studied in Edinburgh and Cambridge but began his career in Germany, working at a variety of posts that included general music director in Freiburg. His 1988 debut in the USA, when he took over the baton of a production of LULU at the New York Met at very short notice, was a sensation. Two years later he was officiating for DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN at the San Francisco Opera, which led to his installation there as Music Director, a position he held from 1992 to 2009. During his time in San Francisco he conducted over 60 productions, among them world premieres of Adams’s DOCTOR ATOMIC, Susa’s THE DANGEROUS LIAISONS and Wallace’s HARVEY MILK.
He is a regular guest at leading opera houses of international repute and is widely considered one of the world’s major conductors of both symphonies and opera. He has conducted at the festivals of Bayreuth, Glyndebourne and Salzburg, at the Metropolitan Opera New York, the Opéra National de Paris, La Scala in Milan, the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, the Oper Köln, the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, the Hamburgische Staatsoper, the Königliche Oper in Copenhagen, the Oper Zürich and the Netherlands Opera. He maintains particularly strong links to the Wiener Staatsoper, where he conducts DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN on a regular basis. His other Vienna premieres have been LADY MACBETH OF THE MTSENSK DISTRICT, PARSIFAL, BILLY BUDD and DIE TOTE STADT at the Wiener Staatsoper and THE FIERY ANGEL and DEATH IN VENICE at the Theater an der Wien.
Runnicles collaborates regularly with the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Berliner and Wiener Philharmoniker.
He has been involved in many live recordings. These include full-scale recordings of HÄNSEL AND GRETEL, ORPHEE ET EURIDICE, BILLY BUDD and TRISTAN UND ISOLDE. In 2013 his CD of Wagner arias featuring Jonas Kaufmann and the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin was rated Vocal Recording of the Year by Gramophone Magazine. The DVD recording of JENUFA with the orchestra and chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin was nominated for a “Best Opera Recording” Grammy in 2015. May 2018 will see the release by Oehms Classics of a recording of the world premiere of Aribert Reimann’s L’INVISIBLE with the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, conducted by Donald Runnicles.
Parallel to his activities as a conductor, Donald Runnicles is also a sought-after pianist and appears in chamber concerts and as an accompanist.
For services to music Donald Runnicles has been awarded honorary doctorates by Edinburgh University, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and is a holder of the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 2004 Queen Elizabeth II appointed him to the Order of the British Empire (OBE).