Donald Runnicles is a highly successful Scottish conductor who mostly worked in opera houses until the 1990s, the decade he successfully branched out into the concert hall. He has generally divided his career equally between operatic and symphonic conducting since. Though he has worked extensively in the U.K. and Germany, he may be better known for his activity in the U.S. as conductor of the San Francisco Opera (since 1992), as principal guest conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and for his many popular recordings on the American label Telarc. Runnicles' choice of operatic repertory has been broad, taking in Gluck, Mozart, Wagner, Puccini, Britten, Korngold, Berg, Adams, and many others. In the symphonic sphere he has shown a slight preference for choral music (Beethoven's Ninth, Mahler's Eighth, Carmina Burana, etc.) but has also conducted purely instrumental fare from Mozart to Maxwell Davies and Turnage. Besides Telarc, Runnicles has recorded for Teldec, Orfeo, RCA, and Apex.
Donald Runnicles was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 16, 1954. He studied music at Edinburgh University and later at Cambridge University. Soon after graduation he traveled to Mannheim, Germany, and served as a vocal coach to opera singers.
Runnicles soon began to freelance as a conductor and in 1988 made his debut at the Met leading a performance of Lulu. The following year he was appointed general music director of Freiburg, Germany. In 1991 he debuted at Glyndebourne with Mozart's Don Giovanni and the following year was named music director of the San Francisco Opera. His appointment to the latter post owed much to his critically acclaimed Ring performances at the SFO in 1990.
In his San Francisco post (which ended in 2008-2009), Runnicles led well over 50 productions, including the premieres of Conrad Susa's The Dangerous Liaisons (1994) and John Adams' Dr. Atomic (2005). He made acclaimed recordings there of Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel (1994) and Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice (1996), both on Teldec. In 2001 Runnicles was appointed principal conductor of the New York-based Orchestra of St. Luke's, a post he held until 2006. He took on two new positions in 2009: music director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin and chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
In the new century Runnicles has made a number of recordings for Telarc with the Atlanta Symphony, the orchestra with which he has served as principal guest conductor. Among their collaborations is the 2007 CD entitled Britannia, a collection of orchestral works by British composers Elgar, Britten, Maxwell Davies, Turnage, and MacMillan.