Valery Gergiev, Biography
Valery Gergiev (Russian, born 2 May 1953) is a conductor and opera company director. He is principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (2007-2015), chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic starting 2015, general director and artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre, and artistic director of the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg. He has tremendous recordings on the Philips and other labels and received many honors and awards.
Childhood and Youth
Gergiev, born in Moscow, is the son of Tamara Tatarkanovna and Abisal Zaurbekovich. He and his siblings were raised in Vladikavkaz in their native North Ossetia in the Caucasus. He had his first piano lessons in secondary school before going on to study at age 19 at the Leningrad Conservatory from 1972 to 1977. His principal conducting teacher was Ilya Musin, one of the greatest conductor-makers in Russian musical history. His sister, Larissa Gergieva, is a pianist and director of the Mariinsky's singers' academy.
In 1978, at age 25, he became assistant conductor at the Kirov Opera, now the Mariinsky Opera, under Yuri Temirkanov, where he made his debut conducting Sergei Prokofiev's War and Peace. He was chief conductor of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra from 1981 to 1985 – the year he made his debut in the United Kingdom, along with pianist Evgeny Kissin and violinists Maxim Vengerov and Vadim Repin at the Lichfield Festival. In 1991, at age 38 and for the first time, Gergiev conducted a western European opera company with the Bavarian State Opera. In the same year, he made his American début, performing War and Peace with the San Francisco Opera. Since then, he has conducted both operatic and orchestral repertoire across the world. He also participates in numerous music festivals, including the White Nights in St. Petersburg.
From 1995 to 2008, Gergiev was principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1997, he became principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. In 2002, he was featured in one scene in the film Russian Ark, directed by Alexander Sokurov and filmed at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
In 2003, he initiated and conducted at the Mariinsky Theatre the first complete cycle of Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung to be staged in Russia for over 90 years. The production's design and concept reflects many aspects of Ossetian culture. Gergiev conducted this production in Cardiff in 2006 at the Wales Millennium Centre, in Costa Mesa, California in October 2006 in the Orange County Performing Arts Center, and in July 2007 in Lincoln Center, New York City to great acclaim and completely sold-out houses.
In June 2011, Gergiev joined the International Tchaikovsky Competition and introduced reforms to the organization, which included replacing academic judges with notable performers and introduced an openness to the process, arranging for all performances to be streamed live and free on the internet and for the judges to speak their minds in public as and whenever they wished.
From 2007 to 2015, Gergiev was the fifteenth principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, succeeding Sir Colin Davis. Gergiev is scheduled to become chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic in 2015.
In April 2007, Gergiev, together with Daniele Gatti, was one of eight conductors of British orchestras to endorse the 10-year classical music outreach manifesto, "BUILDING ON EXCELLENCE: Orchestras for the 21st century", to increase the presence of classical music in the UK, including giving free entry to all British schoolchildren to a classical music concert.
After the 2004 Beslan school massacre in Ossetia, Gergiev appealed on television for calm and against revenge. He conducted concerts to commemorate the victims of the massacre. During the 2008 South Ossetia war, Gergiev accused the Georgian government of massacring ethnic Ossetians, triggering the conflict with Russia. He came to Tskhinvali and conducted a concert near the ruined building of the South Ossetian Parliament as tribute to the victims of the war. In December 2012, Gergiev sided with the Putin administration against the members of Russian band Pussy Riot and suggested that their motivation was commercial.
In New York City in 2013, the LGBT activist group Queer Nation interrupted performances by orchestras conducted by Gergiev at the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall. The activists cited Gergiev's support for Vladimir Putin, whose government had recently enacted a law that bans the distribution of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" to minors, as the reason for their actions. Gergiev however says that it is wrong to suggest that he has ever supported anti-gay legislation and in all his work he has always upheld equal rights for all people and supports anti-discrimination laws.
In March 2014 he voiced support for Russia's military intervention in Ukraine.
In 1999, Gergiev married the musician Natalya Dzebisova, who is 27 years his junior and also a native Ossetian. They have three children, two boys and a girl. From time to time he has been reported to be a friend of Vladimir Putin, and they have been said to be godfathers to each other's children. But in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, Gergiev rejected the notion that he and Putin were each other's children's godfathers. From his past relationship with the language teacher Lena Ostovich, he has a daughter, Natasha.
Photo:"Valery Gergiev David Shankbone 2010" by David Shankbone - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons