When Donald Runnicles came to his first concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2003, he had to travel half way around the world. At that time he was music director of San Francisco Opera. Today he is general music director of the Deutsche Oper, almost next door – you could say – to the Philharmonie. A survey of the Scots-born conductor’s musical career reveals music theatre to be the focus of his artistic work: He began his career as a répétiteur in Mannheim, then after a period as music director in Freiburg, he went to San Francisco Opera in 1992 and afterwards to the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 2009. He is also currently chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. In addition to these commitments he is a regular guest at leading opera houses and with renowned symphony orchestras such as the Vienna and Munich Philharmonic, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. As he once revealed in an interview, he views his role as a conductor “to convey to the orchestra a sense of trust. Not only to develop a trust in the conductor when he leads the orchestra well, but also the trust a conductor shows in an orchestra by giving them the feeling that in almost every bar, each instrumental section has a freedom. That is what it comes down to. Less is more. That is my ideal.”

The Requiem specialist

The first work that Donald Runnicles performed together with the Berliner Philharmoniker was Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. This was followed in the years after by performances of the Requiems by Hector Berlioz and Johannes Brahms. This season, Runnicles conducts yet another: the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé, a contemporary of Olivier Messiaen. The work follows the model of the famous Requiem by Gabriel Fauré and evokes a transcendental, mystical atmosphere. Its archaic and at the same time celestial character is achieved by the successful combination of Gregorian melodies and impressionistic tonal delicacy. The soloists soprano Martina Welschbach, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor and bass-baritone Noel Bouley are joined by the Rundfunkchor Berlin. The first part of the evening includes Olivier Messiaen’s Hymne, and the concert will open with Claude Debussy’s cantata La Damoiselle élue, a work that starts pianissimo. Such concert beginnings are a speciality of the conductor: “In this way, the audience is very gently ushered into another world, and is prepared in a way unlike any other to listen and enjoy. It listens differently.”