Brand Gergiev is badly damaged

Brand Gergiev is badly damaged


norman lebrecht

November 07, 2014

His Ring cycle is playing to empty spaces in Birmingham, despite massive discounting on tickets.

His summer tour with the World Orchestra for Peace turned into a one-stop after a failure to attract funding.

His tenure with the London Symphony Orchestra is trickling out on a tide of indifference.

His moral leadership has evaporated.

Valery Gergiev has taken a severe reputation hit this past year, and on two fronts. His unqualified support for Vladimir Putin’s Crimea invasion has deterred sections of the western public, while his fly-by-night, barely-rehearsed performances have left others feeling cheated and a little bored. The gentle Times critic, Hilary Finch, reports today that he’s conducting the Ring ‘on auto-pilot’.

All of this is bad news for Brand Gergiev. If the Mariinsky is no longer a box-office draw, his tour plans will be confined to Russia and the Far East. If oligarchs won’t fund him, who will? Munich, his next orchestra, will keep a stringent eye on his close relations with the Putin regime.

The most gifted conductor of his generation, and its most interesting personality, is heading for tailspin.

What Gergiev needs right now is fresh strategy. He’s a shrewd businessman. He knows who to consult when his meat concession in Russia fails to sell enough turkeys for Christmas. He knows what to do when a soloist has peaked and requires a different career.

Gergiev is at a crossroads. Between business meetings and balance sheets, he should be urgently canvassing options. He needs, for once in his life, to obtain an objective assessment of his worsening musical situation. He needs, for once, to listen.

gergiev worry


  • Susan Trexel says:

    Who are you, his mother?

    • sdReader says:

      Who are you, someone in need of her own blog?

      Say something, if you have something to say, about the post. Otherwise it’s tiresome. Better to go away.

      • Neil McGowan says:

        Try posting on-topic? Just for a change?

        Because your pathetic neocon ad hominem attacks simply highlight your intellectual vacuity.

        The topic is Valery Gergiev. Try writing something? Earn me a fiver? I’ve bet a friend a fiver you’ll just respond with another offtopic tirade.

        • sdReader says:

          I assume this is directed at Susan Trexel, not here. But your point is a bit blurred by your questions.

        • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

          McGowan, you frequently rant against fellow forists here calling them ” neocons”. Please seek professional help for this obsessive disorder. As for Mr. Gergiev, I hope he will find a way forward. His is a great talent. However, it is stretched thin due to his omnipresence. Never good if one wants to make good music.

          PS: you are, of course, free to reply. I won’t read it anyway.

          • Neil McGowan says:

            Yes, the classic behaviour of a troll. You post a steaming pile of off-topic ad hominem trash…then promise you won’t read replies?


  • John Kelly says:

    Makes Karajan look like an ingenue.
    Not sure I can concur with the “most talented of his generation” accolade. Not even close. Most talented types don’t get themselves into this kind of a bind.

  • James says:

    I can’t agree on this post. I just listened one week ago to an astonishing performance of Valery Gergiev. His conducting had in incredible line and musical vision. He was defenitely at his best. People allow themselves to judge by knowing way to little details and circumstances. Maestro Gergiev is a wonderful warm human beeing and an astonishing musician, who devoted his life to music.

    I have seen him conduct when others would call in sick for a week. So don’t judge at first sight!! And regarding politics – it’s easy to criticise from outside. Russian culture is very different from western-american culture – it’s normal to have different views. It alwys has been like this. Karajan was also seen as a Hitler boy… Today we all know how ridiculous this is!

    • sdReader says:

      I don’t think this is judging “at first sight.” Gergiev is extremely well known after 25 years in the spotlight.

      He may be a “wonderful warm human being” but he is also an operator in the worst sense of that word, jumping around from day to day at such a pace it is impossible to prepare the music.

      What you hear is the result of other people’s efforts of preparation. Gergiev shows up at the last minute, runs through the seen performance, and takes all the credit.

      This is shameful, a kind of fraud, also unique in the history of symphonic music. It deserves to be exposed, as NL is doing here, and discussed.

      And it is to be welcomed that “Gergiev the brand” is starting to fail, if in fact this is the case. New conductors who are at present crowded out should be given more exposure.

  • Manu says:

    Recently saw him conduct outstanding War Requiem in Petersburg and a memorable Mahler 9 in Madrid.
    Maybe the promoters and festivals should start asking him to conduct outside the usual Russian repertoire.
    Many will discover a new Gergiev.

  • Brian says:

    And then there’s this:
    (In Russian but Google translate gives you a general sense of it – i.e. Russia’s invasion of Crimea “saved thousands of lives,” etc.).

    • Anonymus says:

      Factually probably true. So what’s wrong with saying that? It’s also true that the majority of the Crimea inhabitants want to be part of Russia rather than be with the Ukraine. We might not like it, but making statements about matters of fact, even if we don’t like these facts, can hardly be incriminating, no?

  • SVM says:

    Personally, I would rather that internationally famous musicians such as Gergiev continued to take massive artistic risks, instead of play safe. I defy anybody to name a single conductor who has, throughout his/her career, consistently performed to full houses and never failed to obtain funding for a project/tour. If such a conductor existed, he/she would probably be rather dull and perform a very limited repertoire. Just as the recording industry has inhibited performers in what they do on the stage, I fear that the internet is inhibiting performers in what they plan for the stage, since a bad review seems to be all the more persistent.

    By the way, I thought that the UK première of Schechdrin’s opera /The Left-Hander/, at the Barbican Centre, was outstandingly and sublimely performed by the Mariinsky under Gergiev’s baton. But I suppose that Lebrecht would write off that performance — bringing us a compelling opera that almost none of us had ever heard before — on the grounds that it had a far smaller audience than Boris Godunov, the previous evening.

  • Anonymus says:

    Congratulations Mr. Lebrecht for your success. The damage is partly your achievement.

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Looks like someone here is elbowing to get the job of “saving private Gergiev”…
    Let’s recap what would of course transform the pariah into a new darling:
    – First and foremost Valery should make his coming out
    – Condone Porochenko’s Donetsk school children musical education
    – Conduct a series of benefit concerts in the West for the Kolomoisky boys and the Rabinovitch girls
    – Re-brand German, French, British, Scandinavian, Italian, Spanish and Russian music as Ukrainian
    – Stage a Bernard-Henri Levy anti-Putin opera in Kremlin

    • Milka says:

      He is barely a good conductor and will in time be
      replaced by another “rising ” conductor
      who will be replaced by another , etc.
      etc. In the scheme of things his talent does not amount to a hill of beans ., but does give the apparatchiks something to latch on to .Gergiev following in past footsteps of Celibidache is much like the elephant
      giving birth to a mouse , how a great
      orchestra has come down to this.Where is Neil ?????the other
      apparatchicks have checked in. Must
      be arranging a Russian tank tour
      of the Ukraine .

      • Olaugh Turchev says:

        I thought you’d approve of my suggestions…

      • Neil McGowan says:

        The usual paid-to-post off-topic neocon dross from Oleksandra the Ukrainian troll (aka ‘Milker’).

        Blown any schoolkids in Ukraine to pieces during their sports matches this week, have you???

      • ganymede says:

        I agree, I feel sorry for the Munich Philharmonic, what have they gotten themselves into? After Celibidache they had Levine (a disastrous tenure), Thielemann (hmm…) and Maazel (also hmm…), and now Gergiev – oh my!

        Gergiev – like many other current conductors – is a shrewd businessman (nothing new there) but his political stance is a little insensitive, given that the West is paying his salary…

        • Chris says:

          You like opportunistic people who dance to the tune of those who pay them?
          And VG makes good money in Russia from his jobs and business investments. “The west”, what ever that means, provides only additional money for him.

          • ganymede says:

            It’s not opportunistic to at least stay neutral on political issues (clearly outside his job description) if his opinions would clearly be against those countries which have provided his professional life with endless opportunities, not to speak of money.

            However, this is only one aspect. Long before he became politically involved I didn’t like his music making anyways, it was and is average at best. It seems that many in this forum have said pretty much the same.

          • Chris says:

            @Chris: I disagree about staying neutral in political issues, if politics is not your profession. That’s a dangerous idea for a civic democratic society. Every citizen has the duty to engage in politics and take his stand, regardless of his or her profession.

            And countries don’t have opinions. Individuals have opinions, and usually they are diverse. Even in “the west” many people agree with Gergiev’s political position, regardless if you and I like that or not. So I can’t understand what your problem is here, unless you want to suppress freedom.

            If Gergiev is such a mediocre artist and even a political dissident for the mainstream in the west, as you imply, then please explain to me why he is in such high demand? Something doesn’t add up here…

  • JAMA11 says:

    I wonder how many people Norman has declared “the most gifted conductor of his generation.”

  • Herrera says:

    I’ve never understood the mania for Gergiev. I’ve seen him conducting Vienna, LSO, Concertgebouw, Mrinsky, mostly Russian programs, one Mahler. They were all under-rehearsed and uninspired. He may be the most talented of his generation, but he’s standing in the way of even more talented younger generations of Russian trained conductors. Time to cede his many posts inside Russia to the next generation and concentrate on Munich.

    • Olaugh Turchev says:

      I also find his conducting unequal. His Shostakovitch is quite excellent. I cannot believe one can maintain high level all the time with such a busy schedule. It might end up to be hit or miss.

    • harold braun says:

      Mr.Herrera,I think he is one of the greatest conductors alive,a master of orchestral balance and color.But I´ve to agree this is a moot point.But his repertoire is really,really vast and catholic.The complete Opera Repertoire,not just mainstream and russian,including Berlioz,Massenet,Janacek,and others.And at the LSO he presented cycles of Berlioz,Duttileux,Messiaen,Szymanowski and many many more others(and not just Mr.Thielemann!) don´t touch!!!

      • Richard says:

        He is a gifted conductor, I have seen him conduct wonderful performances of Shostakovitch, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Wager and Mussorgsky. four times (twice with Marinsky and twice with the Rotterdam Philharmonic). He needs to settle down in Munich and just make music, forget the globe trotting and get a fresh perspective on music – he has enough money, now he needs to become an artist.

        • sdReader says:

          But he won’t settle down in Munich.

          It’s just another salary for him, in parallel.

          Levine, Maazel, Gergiev — all used Munich this way.

          Celibidache and Thielemann were committed to the city.

          • Alexander Hall says:

            You are misinformed about Thielemann and Munich. He threw a hissy fit when he couldn’t get his way with the City Fathers, threw down his contract and waltzed off to the ever-grateful Dresdeners. Committed? Don’t make me laugh.

          • sdReader says:

            He was committed in the sense that Munich was his unequivocal base and he wanted to retain the position.

          • sdReader says:

            … and the City Fathers were a collective bunch of fools to let him go, as we have seen in their resort to a tired Maazel and now Gergiev.

          • Chris says:

            They were trying to find succession and continuity to Celibidache’s legacy, so since Celi died they always try to buy the greatest available name. But money only gets you that far…

      • Neil McGowan says:

        ‘Herrera’ posts his bile on political grounds alone. He’s paid to do so – just like SDV and Milker are.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    …while his fly-by-night, barely-rehearsed performances have left others feeling cheated and a little bored…

    If anything turns concertgoers off Gergiev, it’ll be this. Yes, he’s talented, but we’re not stupid and we do object to being short-changed.

  • Milka says:

    Richard — in the world of music it is a little late at the age of 60 to become
    an artist , your implication being that thus
    far in his life he is a conductor of sorts
    but can yet become an artist if only he settles down . You seem to be wasting
    a great deal of hard earned cash in buying tickets to hear a hack conduct
    while waiting for him to turn into an artist. His success is largely based on
    the ignorance of his audience and
    his ability to exploit that ignorance.

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      You just are not listening!

      • Neil McGowan says:

        Milker has never listened to music. Milker just posts from a list of Talking Points received from paymasters in Kiev. Milker thinks Andre Rieu is the best it gets in classical muzak.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    There was a queue for returns at a very good Boris at the Barbican last Monday. The players were excellent singers some young and inexperienced but still good. The Left Hander was good too and he commissioned it. The LSO have had an excellent and interesting run with him extending their repertoire.

    Perhaps some of his moves in the west are the responsibility of his management CAMI?

  • Tommy says:

    It’s shame you didn’t have room to mention that Boris Godunov at the Barbican was sold out and VG’s upcoming LSO concerts have very nearly sold out. That’s quite a tailspin.

  • Richard Dubugnon says:

    Oh dear… when did Russia invade Crimea exactly ? I must have missed that.

    • Neil McGowan says:

      I suppose it must have been before Lord Tennyson wrote ‘The Charge Of The Light Brigade’ – in which the Brits unsuccessfully attack the Russian territory of Crimea, at Balaclava…

      ….but the facts don’t matter to the Obama/Merkel suckups 😉

    • Chris says:

      You missed that, because apparently you are not tuned in to the approved channels. You will be reported to Big Brother. You think for yourself? What are you, a human? Dangerous…

  • Milka says:

    I’ve noticed Dame Edna chose to appear with Rieu and not with Gergiev,
    now that should tell the world of music something , besides her being a lady of good taste . While Rieu may not be the best he certainly doesn’t easily bore as does Gergiev.

    • Neil McGowan says:

      Barry Humphries has given up doing ‘Sir Les Patterson’ – allegedly because it’s impossible to satirise Ocker Prime Minister Tony ‘shirtfronter’ Abbott, his knuckledragging pal Joe Hockey, or their prison-colony Komendant Julie Bishop.

      But do let us know when Dame Edna next performs Shostakovich, won’t you, Oleksandra??

  • Milka says:

    Neil , hope you are along with your KGB friends celebrating the 25th anniversary
    of the fall and disintegration of the
    ussr .Granted it has taken on another form of oppressing the muzhiks but
    one day ……. In subscribing to the
    Boulez evaluation of Shostakovich
    one wonders if Dame Edna shares
    the same opinion .

  • Ilya Grinberg says:

    Ghergiev is walking in the footsteps of those German musicians who had not just been opportunists during the rise of the Nazi but were vocal and enthusiastic supporters of Hitler. After the War, no one wanted to deal with them. They were unwelcome anywhere.

    Ghergiev is now a vocal bellwether of the revanchist political regime where the card of a nation rising off its knees is played in the same way as the German card before WWII. His end will be most appropriate.

    • Anonymus says:

      It might excite the political armchair fraction that has watched all Rocky movies about the topos of the ever evil Russkies, but to compare Putin with Hitler is far out of any reasonable comparison, if, big IF, you analyze what is really happening, not what you are being told is happening…

  • Ian Sutton says:

    This is all a big bore.