A virtuoso musician, a true citizen of his country, a real workaholic and a man infinitely in love with his work – today is the birthday of the Artistic Director of the Marinsky Theatre, Valery Gergiev. He celebrates it on the road, as the Easter Festival is in full swing. But the crazy rhythm is his lifestyle. There’s no other way. Music gives strength.
“I was lucky to head the Mariinsky Theatre. The world was eager to explore unknown masterpieces”, says Valery Gergiev.
The unknown masterpieces are those by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, etc. Some works by these famous composers have never been performed before Valery Gergiev. They seemed technically difficult or incomprehensible. The Mariinsky Orchestra plays dozens of authors almost by heart: for example, all the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven, Gustav Mahler, Jean Sibelius, etc. Today, the Maestro needs to spend a mere ten minutes in an unfamiliar hall to take the verdict: the acoustics allows to play Strauss here. And the musicians cope with their task masterly.
They have played in the best halls of the world, from New York to Tokyo. With equal enthusiasm, they give concerts in Omsk and Kirov. They consider as their civic duty to perform in the destroyed Tskhinvali, in the mourning Kemerovo, and in the Palmyra just freed from terrorists.
Valery Gergiev is the son of a combat veteran, and he was expected to pursue a military career. His parents even named him in honor of Valery Chkalov. Then his family considered the career of a football player for him, because he played quite professionally. However, at the music school they decided that the boy had no ear for music: he looked out the window where his friends were kicking a leather ball, and beat out some syncope in line with the ball strikes instead of the given rhythm.
When the future conductor turned 13 years old, his father suddenly died.
“My father passed away at 49, too early, too young. My mom, she somehow saved me for music. It was not easy for her, it was very difficult, at some point we could hardly make ends meet”, he says.
He was 19 when he entered the Conductors Department of the Leningrad Conservatory. Usually such young people do not make it into this profession. But two years later, Valery Gergiev won the International Herbert von Karajan Competition, outstripping the 70 best conductors in the world and having performed 18 symphonic works! The grandiose idea to play composers in cycles, all the compositions in a row, was born under the influence of his outstanding Leningrad teachers.
“They were professors with a great reputation; they were experts, intellectuals, but also the aristocrats of the soul. They could take a student for a walk after the performance, talk about Franz Schubert, about Johann Sebastian Bach”, the conductor recalls.
In 1988, the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Theatre elected Valery Gergiev its Principal Conductor. The pace at which they have been working since then seems crazy: rehearsals for days, transfers, two, three, four concerts a day. The Easter Festival is in full swing. A whole train has been booked on the occasion. For instance, in the morning, there’s a concert in Cherepovets, in the evening, in Vologda, and tomorrow at noon Arkhangelsk is waiting.
“We sometimes travel more than 1,000 kilometers a day. Even the locomotive has failed recently, and we had to go back to replace it”, says Valery Gergiev.
Many of the current orchestra players were not yet born when Valery Gergiev had led the team. The average age is 25 years. For these young people, such a pace of life, and such volumes of repertoire are already the norm. Valery Gergiev’s listener is also getting younger: five and even three-year-olds come to concerts with their parents.
On his 65th birthday, the Maestro is not arranging any special ceremonies. Friends will come to the Moscow concert, and the next day he will take his place at the conductor’s console again. In the morning, Smolensk is waiting, and Bryansk, in the evening.
On the threshold of the XVI International Tchaikovsky Competition, Valery Gergiev said: “It will be a quite tense Competition, and I’m sure that its level will be high. Clarinetists, oboists, flutists, bassoon players will compete for victory with their colleagues who play all the woodwind and brass instruments of the classical orchestra. I think that this news will be fiercely discussed, it will be a sensation for many”. He added that throughout the world, thousands of performers would perceive this event as a unique chance.