San Francisco Opera's new general director, David Gockley, and its music director, Donald Runnicles, announced late on Friday (Sept. 15) that, by "mutual decision," the term of Runnicles's contract as the company's music director would not be extended or renewed when it expires at the end of the 2008-09 season.
In the same statement, the company said that Runnicles would continue to work with the company beyond the end of his term, in particular on the new Wagner Ring cycle, directed by Francesca Zambello, which San Francisco Opera is co-producing with Washington National Opera and which is scheduled to continue into the 2010-11 season.
Runnicles took up the San Francisco Opera music director post in 1992. In the past three to five years, his star has begun to rise in the conducting world, due to his work in San Francisco, as principal guest conductor of the Atlanta Symphony, and guest appearances with such orchestras as the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras, La Scala and the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Runnicles won particular praise at San Francisco Opera for his work on the US premiere of Messiaen's Saint-François d'Assise and the world premiere of John Adams's Doctor Atomic. His contract was renewed in 2004 by the company's board and Pamela Rosenberg, who stepped down as general director in San Francisco at the end of last year.
Gockley, who succeeded Rosenberg on January 1 of this year, said in the statement, "I have enormous respect for Donald Runnicles both as a musician and as a musical leader in this company ... I am thrilled that he will continue his association with the Company beyond his current contract as music director ... As far as I'm concerned, Donald's relationship with this Company is open-ended."
The August 2006 issue of Opera News, however, quotes Gockley as saying, "Runnicles, of course, was not my appointment. But we had enough good conversation. I think Runnicles knows now that he does report to me, even though his contract was renewed by the board during the last year of Pamela Rosenberg's administration. And he needs to know — I mean, he knows where his next renewal is coming from."
Gockley told The San Francisco Chronicle that the next music director should be appointed within three to five months, though he declined to name any current or potential candidates. The newspaper observed that Gockley had been expected to name his own choice for the music director post; it also pointed out that the obvious candidate for the job would be Patrick Summers, who is currently music director at Houston Grand Opera (where Gockley presided for 33 years until he took his new position) and has conducted often at San Francisco Opera.