Maestro: Portrait of Valery Gergiev

Russian dynamo Valery Gergiev — world-famous conductor and tireless promoter of his nation’s rich musical heritage — sits for his GREAT PERFORMANCES portrait, Wednesday, May 28 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). Constantly in motion with a schedule that would daunt most celebrity conductors, he is definitively captured by Oscar-winner Allan Miller in MAESTRO: PORTRAIT OF VALERY GERGIEV.

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Presented by Thirteen/WNET New York, the one-hour visit finds the artistic and general director of St. Petersburg’s legendary Mariinsky Theater in high spirits, particularly when discussing his favorite topic: the exhilaration of fine music making. “If musicians can enjoy it, most of the public will enjoy it too,” he says, taking a backstage break from recent conducting chores at the London Symphony, where he presides as principal conductor. “To create this atmosphere of everyone being involved and interested you really have to start with the orchestra.”

Or, in his case, orchestras. In addition to the St. Petersburg and London posts, he is principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic (at least until he steps down this August) and has served as principal guest conductor at the Met. He also managed to found and lead the famous Stars of the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg and the Moscow Easter Festival.

“I’m in complete awe,” says Rachel Gough, London Symphony principal bassoonist, who provides the haunting solo that opens Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and which also opens and concludes the telecast. “With complete concentration, focus and energy, he draws us all in like a magnet.” Adds Patrick Harrild, principal tuba, “He hears everything. I love it. And it’s plainly obvious that the whole orchestra love it.”

Singers, too, respond to the special Russian intensity. Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Renée Fleming, shown in highlights from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, bring white-hot passion to the work’s closing moments under the maestro’s tutelage from the Met podium. “He embraces your souls and your spontaneities easily,” says the superstar Siberian baritone. “He is unique.”

Other musical moments in Maestro: Portrait of Valery Gergiev include excerpts from Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Easter Festival Overture. Gergiev’s most famous protég´e, Mariinsky soprano Anna Netrebko, is seen seeking advice from her mentor, then offering a thrilling “Or sai chi l’onore” as Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

For a man conducting a performance nearly every day of the year, Valery Gergiev remains the calm center of the frenzied world of musicians, singers, administrators, politicians, and managers swirling around him. “He believes strongly in everything in Russian arts and culture,” says R. Douglas Sheldon, Gergiev’s manager of many years.

Concurring, Gergiev puts it more directly. “My first and most important goal is to continue the tradition.”

Special funding for this telecast was provided by Donald and Jeanne Kahn, Pierre de Labouchere, The Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, Gloria and RJ Brandes, VTB Bank, Donald M Kendall, Elizabeth and Henry Segerstrom, Sibir Energy plc, Troika Dialog Group, Joan and Sandy Weill, Joan and Irwin Jacobs, Gwendolyn and James Meyer, Dr. M. Lee Pearce and the Dr. M. Lee Pearce Foundation, Tishman Speyer, and Bialkin Family Foundation.

GREAT PERFORMANCES is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, public television viewers, and PBS. Special funding for this telecast was provided by the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust and the Benjamin and Seema Pulier Charitable Foundation.

MAESTRO: PORTRAIT OF VALERY GERGIEV premiered Wednesday, May 28, 2008.

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  • Bubba Bubu

    I kindly request to remove his name from such respectable media as PBS because Gergiev was used as a propaganda war machine by Kremlin against Georgian war in 2008, personally Mr. Gergiev screamed about “2000 innocent killed” (as it turned out 157 military personal and some civilians died)and wholly defended Russian brutal aggression, world of art has to fight against such lies, any propaganda that may be used against any nation. He has no right to perform Schostakovich’s 7th symphony because ironically composer himself compared German military machine against Stalin’s brutal machine for whom current Russia is craving so much! I respectfully ask editorial to put this notice as a supporter of democratic movement in east Europe. Thank you!

  • Kelly Norman

    Censorship….always the way to solve things!

    As a matter of fact *many* Ossetian civilians were slain in their beds on August 7 2008 by a *surprise* attack by the Georgian army. It was a foolish and brutal move by Shakashvilli, who tried to then state that US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had “ok’d” the attack. At any rate, Gergiev is an Ossetian himself, who wouldn’t disagree he is emotional. When innocent civilians are targeted (and there were few other people there….the Georgian UN peacekeepers had mysteriously left their posts before the attack)it doesn’t take strong handling from another country (Russia) to get their friends and relatives a bit riled up.

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