Donald Runnicles a candidate for DSO music director? Who knows? But he led a dramatic concert

Dallas Morning News
By: Scott Cantrell

The guessing game continues: Who will be the next music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, after Jaap van Zweden steps down this summer?

A guest conductor much respected by DSO musicians, the Scotsman Donald Runnicles, was on the podium Thursday night. He brought with him an unusual program, in an unusual order: two of the overtures Beethoven composed for his sole opera, originally called Leonore, later Fidelio, framing the composer's Violin Concerto and Sibelius' Seventh Symphony. And he made an arresting case for everything.

Runnicles has impressive credentials in both opera houses and concert halls. He's music director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin but at the moment has no orchestra title more substantial than principal guest conductor of the Atlanta Symphony. 

At age 63, he may or may not be interested in the responsibilities of another music director's post, and the DSO may be looking for someone younger. But, with all that upper-body exercise, conductors tend to be long-lived, and there's certainly something to be said for a veteran's skill set.

Runnicles' operatic experience certainly showed in vivid, dramatic performances of all four pieces. Indeed, it was a fairly operatic approach, shared by soloist Nicola Benedetti, that so refreshed the Violin Concerto.

It's often played, as the late Michael Steinberg wrote, as "an elegant, gracious, playful and virtuosic work more than a 'deep' one." But it hails from the same period as the opera, and Benedetti and Runnicles emphasized its contrasts among sweetly soaring, passingly turbulent and happily buoyant music. They gave it muscle when wanted, sublimity elsewhere. Benedetti played fabulously, with wholly sympathetic collaboration from Runnicles and company.

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