Ilan Volkov, the orchestra's current chief conductor, announced last month that he would step down when his contract expires after the 2008-09 season. His first child, Nadia, was born in Tel Aviv in August (he missed his Edinburgh International Festival engagement to be present), and he has reportedly decided to pursue a freelance career for the time being so as to spend more time near home.
A native of Edinburgh, Runnicles has not held a regular position in Great Britain for nearly two decades, so his appointment to the BBC SSO podium represents a homecoming (to the Scottish press, certainly, if not to the maestro himself). His primary posts are at San Francisco Opera (a job he has held since 1992, and from which he steps down in 2009), principal guest conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and music director of the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming. Among his guest-conducting dates this season are return appearances with the Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna State Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic. (For that last engagement, three performances of the Berlioz Requiem in May 2008, he brings with him the Atlanta Symphony Chorus, which electrified the Berlin audience in Britten's War Requiem under Runnicles in December 2003.)
Runnicles's duties as BBC SSO chief conductor will include performing with the orchestra for at least eight weeks each season as well as on tours and recordings.
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra director Gavin Reid said in a statement, "We are absolutely thrilled that Donald Runnicles is to become the orchestra's new Chief Conductor. Donald and the orchestra have created breathtaking concerts at both the BBC Proms and Edinburgh International Festival in recent years and have a wonderful relationship. We are set for a truly exciting future."