Runnicles was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, 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 most recent Grand Teton contract was through 2011, and as of 2011, he continues to be listed as music director of the festival.
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.
Later the same month, 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. In September 2011, the BBC SSO announced the extension of Runnicles' contract as chief conductor through 2015.
- Britten: Peter Grimes / Metropolitan Opera DVD 2008
- Britten: Billy Budd / Bo Skovhus, Festival Vienna 2001.
- Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem / Elgar, Davies, Turnage
- Humperdinck: Hansel und Gretel / Larmore, Ziesak.
- Korngold: Die tote Stadt / Salzburg Festival 2004.
- Mozart: Requiem / Levin Edition.
- Orff: Carmina Burana / Hong, Atlanta.
- Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, and others / NDR So Hamburg.
- Wagner: Tristan und Isolde / Brewer, Treleaven, Rose.
- Wagner: Arias, Wesendonck Lieder / Jonas Kaufmann, DO
- Wallace: Harvey Milk / San Francisco Opera
- Tim Cornwell (2009-10-10). "Interview: Donald Runnicles - Conducting electricity". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2011-10-01.
- Stephen Moss (2002-12-11). "Remember my name". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-09-14.
- BBC Radio 3's Performance on 3, 26 January 2010
- Ben Mattison (2004-11-16). "San Francisco Opera Music Director Donald Runnicles Extends His Tenure". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
- Matthew Westphal (2006-09-18). "Donald Runnicles's Contract at San Francisco Opera Will Not Be Renewed". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
- Joshua Kosman (2006-09-16). "Runnicles won't renew contract with S.F. Opera". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-10-03.
- Ben Mattison (2005-09-21). "Atlanta Symphony Extends Contracts of Spano and Runnicles". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-12-23.
- Rosalind Bentley (2012-01-18). "Runnicles extends ASO contract". Access Atlanta. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
- Allan Kozinn (2002-02-03). "A Courtship of Conductor and Orchestra". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-25.
- Emily Quinn (2005-08-29). "Donald Runnicles Named Next Music Director of Grand Teton Music Festival". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-12-23.
- Joshua Kosman (2007-10-02). "Opera's Runnicles to lead BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-11-20.
- Tim Cornwell, "Conductor back after 18 years to lead BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra". The Scotsman, 2007-10-02.
- Matthew Westphal (2007-10-01). "Homecoming: Donald Runnicles to Succeed Ilan Volkov at BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2008-09-14.
- Kenneth Walton (2009-05-06). "Donald Runnicles interview: The return of the prodigal son". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2009-09-22.
- Matthew Westphal (2007-10-31). "In Sudden Appointment, Donald Runnicles Named Next Music Director of Deutsche Oper Berlin". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
- "Donald Runnicles extends his contract with the BBC SSO" (Press release). BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. September 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-01.
- Frederik Hanssen (2007-11-01). "Die Stimme eines Herrn". Der Tagesspiegel. Retrieved 2007-11-03.
- Michael Tumelty (2007-10-04). "Now he’s conducting electricity". The Herald. Retrieved 2007-11-20.
- "Conductor returns to the source". The Times, 1 March 2009.
- Official website of Donald Runnicles
- BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
- Grand Teton Music Festival
- Interview with Donald Runnicles in Exberliner Magazine**
Sir John Pritchard
|Music Director, San Francisco Opera
Sir Charles Mackerras
|Principal Conductor, Orchestra of St. Luke's
|Music Director, Grand Teton Music Festival
|Generalmusikdirektor, Deutsche Oper Berlin
|Chief Conductor, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra