Donald Runnicles, OBE (born 16 November 1954, Edinburgh, Scotland) is a Scottish conductor. The son of William Runnicles, a director of a furniture supplier and a choirmaster and organist, and Christine Runnicles, he began his education at George Heriot's School in Edinburgh, moving later to George Watson's College which offered a specialised music education facility, followed by the University of Edinburgh and the University of Cambridge. He worked for a year at the London Opera Centre.
Runnicles began his operatic career as a singers' coach and assistant conductor in Mannheim, Germany. He became Generalmusikdirektor of the city of Freiburg, Germany in 1989. Referring to the 10 years he spent in Germany, Runnicles has said
"I have to breathe this air, this Wagnerian air. It was life-changing and that love affair with Wagner led to what was influenced by him: the Bruckner, the Mahler."
In the USA, Runnicles served as Music Director and Principal Conductor of the San Francisco Opera from 1992 to 2009. After the conclusion of his contract, he is scheduled to continue to work with the company as a guest conductor. Runnicles has served as Principal Guest Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra since September 2001, and his current contract there runs through 2014. From 2001 to 2007, he was also Principal Conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke's. Runnicles had been offered the title of Music Director of the Orchestra of St. Luke's, but he declined the title. He became Music Director of the Grand Teton Music Festival in September 2005, having been appointed that August. His Grand Teton contract was extended through 2011, and subsequently to 2019.
Runnicles first conducted the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (BBC SSO) in 2001. In October 2007, the BBC SSO announced the appointment of Runnicles as their next Chief Conductor in September 2009, for an initial contract of 3 years. The BBC SSO appointment marks Runnicles' first principal post with a British orchestra. In September 2011, the BBC SSO extended his contract as chief conductor through 2015. In October 2014, the orchestra reported the scheduled conclusion of Runnicles' tenure as chief conductor in September 2016, at which time he is scheduled to take the title of conductor emeritus with the BBC SSO.
Also in October 2007, the Deutsche Oper Berlin announced the appointment of Runnicles as their next Generalmusikdirektor, effective August 2009, for an initial contract of 5 years. In addition to his conducting posts, Runnicles also holds an honorary doctorate from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, as of February 2011.
Runnicles has two daughters, Ashley and Tamara, from his past marriage to the violist Elizabeth Prior. and an older daughter, Alexandra, from a previous relationship.