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Conductor Donald Runnicles and Symphonies that Sing

Donald Runnicles

Scottish conductor Donald Runnicles is busy with leadership positions in the opera and symphonic worlds in Germany, Scotland, and America. WRTI’s Susan Lewis profiles Runnicles, who is also a regular guest conductor with The Philadelphia Orchestra.  

On Sunday, July 24 at 1 pm on WRTI, Donald Runnicles conducts The Philadelphia Orchestra in a program featuring the music of Beethoven, Elgar and Brahms. 

Radio Script: 

MUSIC: Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, conducted by Leonard Bernstein 

Susan Lewis: He was a young man when he had a transformative encounter with Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. Donald Runnicles was selling programs in Scottland’s Usher Hall.

Donald Runnicles: I had the chance to sit on the steps...and there was Lenny Bernstein and I experienced the miracle, the magic of this remarkable renaissance musician. He was famous for those leaps. In that moment, you really thought this is being composed as we are present...and I knew then I wanted to be a conductor.

SL: Runnicles wrote his university thesis on Mahler, and began his career working in opera in London and Germany. Today, whether conducting opera or symphonic works, the human voice and how a phrase might be sung, informs his approach. Think of  Beethoven, Elgar, or Brahms.

DR: It sounds like a cliché, but there are so many moments that sound like songs without words...where would I breathe in a phrase, even if it’s instrumental? Where would the violinist breathe? There’s very often an artificial divide between orchestral conductors and opera conductors, but I believe there is no divide.

SL:  Today, Runnicles leads the DeutscheOper in Berlin, the BBC Scottish Symphony, the Grand Teton Music Festival, and is principal guest conductor of the Atlanta Symphony.

Listen to conductor Donald Runnicles talk with Susan Lewis about growing up, his fascination with the human voice, and how it informs all of his music making.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.