Maestro: Portrait of Valery Gergiev

Introduction

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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.

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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