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Valery Gergiev
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Valery Gergiev

Valery Gergiev is one of the foremost international conductors of our time. As well as being one of the most highly sought after artists by the world’s top orchestras and opera houses, he occupies a unique, pre-eminent position in Russia as both the Music Director of the Kirov Opera and the Kirov Ballet and the overall Intendant of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, the Kirov Companies’ historic home.

Valery Gergiev was born in Moscow in 1953, but grew up in the Caucasus, the mountainous area at the Southern end of Russia, stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. He began his musical studies in Ordzhonikidze, the Caucasian capital of Ossetia, and showed early prodigious talent as a pianist before taking up conducting in his teens. He was accepted into the conducting class of Ilya Musin at the Leningrad (now St Petersburg) Conservatory, and whilst still a student won the All Union Conductors Competition in Moscow and the Herbert von Karajan Conductors Competition in Berlin.

In 1977 at the age of just 24, Valery Gergiev was appointed Assistant Conductor to Yuri Temirkanov at the Kirov Opera, where he made his debut conducting Prokofiev’s War and Peace in 1978. Ten years later, in 1988, he became the Kirov’s Music Director on Yuri Temirkanov’s departure to the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. By then Maestro Gergiev was already attracting attention for some brilliant performances with leading European orchestras. On taking up his directorship at the Kirov his fame quickly spread as he initiated an ambitious artistic agenda with bold new productions and conducted performances that were acclaimed for their corporate discipline, dramatic flair, imaginative detail and brilliant virtuosity.

Under Valery Gergiev’s direction, surviving the change from perestroika in the Soviet Union to the free enterprise of the new Russian Federation, the Kirov Opera has become one of the world’s most dynamic and prestigious opera companies, winning great plaudits on its frequent international tours. The credit for the very high level of ensemble singing, stage production and orchestral playing has collectively been awarded to Valery Gergiev who meticulously and demandingly involves himself with all these elements. Some of the most outstanding singers of recent times have been nurtured by the Kirov Opera, and the Kirov Opera Orchestra is now considered one of the world’s very finest ensembles. Indeed the Kirov is one of the very few top international opera companies that remains as an ensemble. Additionally, Valery Gergiev has brought some of the world’s greatest guest singers and solo instrumentalists to appear with the Kirov Opera in stage performances and concerts, especially during the Stars of the White Nights Festivals, a gala arts festival celebrating midsummer in St Petersburg, of which Maestro Gergiev is the Artistic irector.

Valery Gergiev’s presence at the Mariinsky Theatre is a unique driving force in international opera and ballet. As Music Director of both the Kirov Opera and Ballet he is the first great conductor for generations to devote himself to directing both art forms regularly in the same theatre, bringing extremely high technical and artistic standards to musical performances of both genres. His commitment to ballet is an extremely rare case of an internationally prestigious musician conducting more than occasionally for dance. As Intendant of the Maryinski Theatre Valery Gergiev is marrying his aspirations in performance to his ideals for stage production, home and guest casting (including new artists’ careers at the Kirov), repertoire expansion, and the entire financial and legal welfare of the Theatre and its opera and ballet companies. Devoting over two thirds of his entire time to the Mariinsky Theatre, his capacity and success on this scale are without precedent. As the Kirov Opera and Ballet’s director, ambassador and fundraiser, Valery Gergiev has made as profoundly striking an impression with the world of corporate business as he has with artists and audiences.

Abroad, Valery Gergiev is hugely in demand by opera houses and orchestras. Opera companies include the New York Metropolitan (where he has been appointed the first ever Principal Guest Conductor), Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Bayerischer Staatsoper Munich, San Francisco Opera, and Salzburg Opera. Orchestras include the Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Philharmonia, Royal Concertgebouw, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland, and Rotterdam Philharmonic, of which he is the Music Director.

Maestro Gergiev has initiated themed music festivals in which artists from the Kirov Opera perform abroad with foreign orchestras in repertoire that is strongly associated with Russia and the Kirov Opera, and including the music of Western composers who have had close links with the Kirov. A notable success was the Maryinski series in London in 1993, in which some outstanding Kirov singers under Maestro Gergiev’s care were introduced to the West.

Valery Gergiev has also created cultural exchange festivals between the Kirov Opera and leading European orchestras: visits by the Kirov Opera to major musical centres are thematically linked with subsequent visits by the cities’ orchestras to the Mariinsky Theatre. The Kirov / Philharmonia series, linking St Petersburg and London, is the latest initiative.

Maestro Gergiev’s rehearsals are meticulously demanding, but civilised and controlled. He works at great intensity but with a quiet authority. With a painstaking level of preparation behind him, he can sometimes take extreme spontaneous risks in performances, obtaining virtuoso results. Conducting sometimes with and sometimes without a baton, the combination of dynamism, flexibility and control in his concert and opera performances have won him international recognition as one of the truly great artists of our time.

These qualities are also present in the prodigious recordings Valery Gergiev has made for Philips Classics since 1989, which have received great acclamation for their character, brilliance and discipline. They include complete a very wide range of Russian operas, ballets and symphonic works, including both famous classics and some rare lesser known items. Many more recordings are already scheduled for the future or completed awaiting release.

Valery Gergiev’s multifaceted life is a uniquely dynamic and creative force in music today.

Jon Tolansky

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