Valery Gergiev responds to just criticism

Valery Gergiev responds to just criticism


norman lebrecht

July 31, 2019

The absentee conductor, fiercely criticised for an underpowered Tannhäuser on his Bayreuth debut and unlikely to return any time soon,  has hit back in a Russian radio interview.

Gergiev said: ‘My responsibility is only to the composer, not to the one who wrote something (in a newspaper). Some 30 years ago, the great conductor Georg Solti told me: “Never read anything about yourself, good or bad.” That was his advice. I was very young then, and he is one of the greatest conductors of the century. So it doesn’t interest me much.’

He pointed out that the performance was widely telecast. ‘Hundreds of thousands of people can judge for themselves. The rest is nonsense.’  He compared the almost-uniform bad reviews to the pro-Ukraine demonstrations he faced in the US. ‘If you think about these things, you will lose your head and forget what your profession is. I think only about what I need to do.’

Read full interview here (in Russian).



  • Trevor S. says:

    Nevertheless he’s the greatest genius of nowadays!

    • Tristan says:

      what a bad joke!!!
      There is Kiril Petrenko and then many good ones but Gergiev might not even in that list

  • John S Orel says:

    [ the almost-uniform bad reviews ]

    Such as this 5* encomium from Mark Ronan in the Torygraph?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Not a professional critic.

      • John S Orel says:

        It’s a 5* review in the DT. What makes a critic ‘professional’? Writing for The Arse Desk, perhaps?

        But I understand how the distress you feel whenever Gergiev is praised, Norman. It undoes all your assiduous work.

        • sam says:

          Mark Ronan is a retired mathematics professor. He proudly says so on his website.

          He contributes a review on ballet and the opera about once or twice a year to newspapers.

          In this case, it really is not some big metaphysical debate.

          If Norman Lebrecht started reviewing math text books, even you’d agree that it would be fair to say that he is not a professional mathematician, right?

          • steven holloway says:

            Not quite correct, Sam. Ronan is a polymath. He is a mathematician much-honoured internationally. He is also an authority on and teacher of Mesopotamian history and literature and the history of the calendar. He has taken many acting roles in operas presented by Chicago’s Lyric Opera. His reviews appear in the Telegraph, Standpoint, etc., but most frequently on his own blog, which is devoted to reviews of opera, dance, and theatre productions. In these days, I don’t deem the sobriquet ‘professional critic’ much of a recommendation. In this context, the only way in which it might separate goats from sheep is if the critic were also a trained and professional musician. By that token, I should indeed have to say that NL is not a professional mathematician, but then again, he is no trained musician. Making money by having ads on your blog does not make one a more qualified, ‘professional’ writer on matters musical, and nor for a ‘professional’ critic. Mind you, who says that Ronan does not get paid for his reviews and articles in the Telegraph or in Standpoint? If he is paid, neither you nor NL can simply state he is not a professional critic, if indeed you think that getting paid for doing something makes you good at it. But Mark Ronan is very good indeed, whether one agrees with him or not.

          • norman lebrecht says:

            Define your terms. I have been a professional writer all my life in all forms of media. It’s how I made my fortune.

          • V.Lind says:

            As did I mine. But even though I held positions at recognised outlets — newspapers, magazines, radio and television (I have not, like you, written fiction or had my work transmuted to film) — I recognise that simply because I was the official writer/editor/broadcaster did not give me the monopoly on knowledge about music and dance.

            Indeed, my role gave me the opportunity to meet many people whose principal professions were in other walks of life but who were extremely knowledgeable about my professional interests and from whom I was grateful to learn.

            There are certainly lots of people writing on the internet who voice opinions without knowledge. There are also some who bring a wealth of knowledge to their forum, in many cases because the opportunities available to the likes of you and me to break in back in the day are shrinking by the hour, as is frequently noted here.

            Furthermore, Mr. Ronan does not appear to be one of those. From what is said above, he is a gifted, well-rounded human being whose areas of knowledge appear to encompass music, sufficiently so to contribute a review to the Telegraph.

            There are some Luddite tendencies on this forum, from how a concert may be listened to (regard the sneering over the outdoor concert in Montreal the other day) to what is required to dare to darken the doors of a concert hall, from silence to dress to age of attendees to what constitutes music at all. Now it appears there is some arbitrary set of rules as to who may dare to voice a view of music in the public presses.

            I am reminded of Lord Grantham bucking against the 20th century, whether it be who a daughter marries or whether another works or the adaptation of his precious estate to the principles of good husbandry rather than noblesse oblige. The 21st century is well under way I sometimes (make that increasingly) wish this forum would join it.

          • Robert Groen says:

            ….he said, without the merest whiff of pomposity….

          • sam says:

            By your standards, Mr. Ronan is a professional mathematician, professional historian, professional literary critic, professional ballet critic, professional theatre critic, professional music critic, professional calendar maker, professional actor in operas (whatever that is), indeed, a professional polymath.

            And you and I are both professional posters. Good to know, NL owes us both a fee for posting our professional comments here.

          • steven holloway says:

            “Professional literary critic…professional calendar maker [!?!?]…professional polymath [!?!?]”. Making things up or, really, adressing your own caricature of what I wrote does not make for a profitable conversation, Sam. God alone knows how you came to write the “professional posters” paragraph.

          • sam says:

            How? Reductio ad absurdum, tracing back to Aristotle’s Prior Analytics, used throughout history in both formal mathematical and philosophical reasoning. That’s how.

          • steven holloway says:

            But, Sam, argumentum ad absurdum must itself be logically sound, and it can’t be if you in whole or in part base your argument upon false premises. At best, this response to my earlier post is based upon a caricature of my comment, and it is this which makes your premises false. A little odd, for my most recent reply to you was intended to point out that you yourself mention elements, e.g., professional calendar maker, that I did not. Thus false premises coming close to an ignoratio elenchi. By the by, although Ronan’s most influential work is likely that on mathematical ‘Buildings’, as they are termed, it should be no surprise that he studies the history of calendars. There are many, many calendars and all require mathematics in their construction and in the study of them. Your oddest notion is “professional polymath”, but your reference to Ronan making calendars comes close. But, as I said, false premises anyway.

      • aga says:

        this is getting too political – its unfair to criticise Gergiev for his link to Putin…does anyone care about C.T.’s connection to national socialism?

        • norman lebrecht says:

          CT has no connection to National Socialism whatsoever: that’s a fiction. Gergiev is an executive arm of the Putin regime in Crimea, Syria and beyond.

          • Novagerio says:

            And how does that technically belittle his artistry?…

          • norman lebrecht says:

            That’s a separate matter: he doesn’t rehearse.

          • Novagerio says:

            “He doesn’t rehearse” – Well, neither did Knappertsbusch (!) – nor Rozhdestvensky or Temirkanov (!)…

          • M2N2K says:

            That is simply untrue: GR did not like rehearsing much but he did it just enough for well-prepared fine performances; YT used rehearsal time well and was always thorough and effective in his rehearsals.

          • wiener says:

            Katharina Wagner said in Austrian Television he held every rehearsal stipulated by his contract.

          • Gustavo says:

            There may be no causal connection, but CT’s musical taste has sometimes been a little irritating.

            Note the jolly audience in the 1942 version.



          • X.Y. says:

            What nonsense: This song is by Bruno Balz, written, to save his life after having been tortured by the GESTAPO immediately before. He deserves to be heard.

          • Gustavo says:

            Still not clear why this was taken so light-heartedly on New Year’s Eve in Dresden. The mob there is ignorant.

          • X.Y. says:

            Despite the dismal conditions under which it was written this song is very lighthearted, thats just the miracle. Bruno Balz was a rare genius, read up his bio and hear his other songs.

          • steven holloway says:

            Balz wrote the lyrics. The music was composed by Michael Jary.

          • Gustavo says:

            Yes, the soundtrack to NS propaganda film officially banned, at least in Germany.

          • Tamino says:

            What’s wrong with Russian intervention in Syria? They decisively helped to destroy ISIS there. Unlike the US et al, who gave the Islamists money and weapons in the beginning, to fight against Assad…

          • Novagerio says:

            Tamino: What’s obviously wrong is that it’s not a communist intervention. But then again, Slippedisc didn’t exist during the Brezhnev years…

          • Robert Groen says:

            Exactly what does he ‘execute’, Norman?

      • Robert Groen says:

        Ah, only professional critics are qualified to have an opinion, are they? Well, shoot me down for not being a professional either, but I’ve seen and heard many Tannhausers and musically Gergiev’s offering from the Green Hill sounds as good as any. The bizarre production, part Achim Freyer, part Pierre Audi (on a bad day), will have enraged many traditionalists and enraged others. To use the relative failure of the 2019 Tannhauser as a a chance for another diatribe against a very fine conductor and proud Russian (Ossetian) is, to my mind, politically motivated and seriously reprehensible. Give it a rest, Norman! it

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Don’t be silly of course he rehearses and you were always first in line for an interview when he visited London.

  • Norbert says:

    Gergiev is the worst, sloppiest, “top” conductor I’ve ever seen.

    I remember a season inaugural with the LSO – one of the worst concerts of my life. Britten sea interludes, and he brought them in, in the wrong place TWICE!

    Plus – he also looks like he’s just come in from the fields, picking his Ossetian potatoes. Disgusting.

    Thank God he’s gone from London – no-one ever pines for his memory.

    • Gustavo says:

      Order, order!

    • Anon says:

      Norbert, believe me, we are v happy he has gone from London also. Cannot begin to describe the working years with Gergiev. Rehearsals??!

    • DYB says:

      Years ago, when Joseph Volpe still ruled The Metropolitan in NYC, Gergiev was asked to shower before entering the pit because the stench was nauseating the orchestra.

      Also, Gergiev was (and is) notorious for arriving late, keeping the audience waiting. He did so for a few times in a run of “Parsifal” in NY; arriving 30 mins late on average. Volpe, who had to pay overtime to the orchestra, informed Gergiev that if he arrived late to the pit 1 more time, that would be the last time he would ever walk into that pit. The rest of the run of “Parsifal” went on schedule.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Gergiev’s personal appearance on the podium is consistently slovenly.
    His “conducting” is laughable.
    His lack of rehearsing is disgraceful.
    Orchestras resent and despise him (see the comment above re: the Israel Philharmonic).
    Of course he doesn’t read his reviews – why bother to do so when you’re raking in all that ill-earned cash?

  • Bruce says:

    If Gergiev is so disapproved of now, why was he lionized early in his career? Did he do better work before he became an international jet-set conductor? Or did he only ever have his one trick — “visceral excitement” — and it took people awhile to figure out there was nothing else?

    • Gustavo says:

      LSO and WPO picked him. Maybe Valery is spoilt by orchestras that can run on autopilot. The question is whether his pure presence has any positive effect.

    • DYB says:

      In part I think his work in Russian repertoire was excellent and he introduced a lot of neglected Russian operas to the rest of the world.

      Everything else has always been “controversial.” Was it Rossini who said that Wagner has some excellent moments separated by boring quarters of an hour?? That’s Gergiev: flashes of brilliance separated by a lot of nonsense.

      • John Borstlap says:

        VG is, and was, a highly gifted conductor with a knack of injecting intensity into a score and the routine working habits of any orchestra. Alas, he gradually fell into his own routine of sloviness, one hand destroying what the other had built-up. And of course, his political relationships undermines his credibility as a human being.

        I spoke with him in 2008 and we had an interesting discussion about new music, and what modernism effected in Russia where some composers tried to catch-up with the West by repeating the western sixties, producing scores where two people were needed to turn the pages. My impression was of a sympathetic no-nonsense man, but highly unreliable and with hygienic habits which left something to be wished for.

        • Robert Groen says:

          Flawed human beings (in which I expressly do not include Gergiev, let alone Ms Netrebko), have frequently operated at the most exalted heights of classical music. People like Furtwangler, Strauss, Karajan, Orff, Hindemith, Mengelberg, Van Kempen etc etc. have all been the target of criticism and public opprobrium. Some may have deserved it, others perhaps not. But in these uber-virtuous times, opprobrium isn’t quite enough. We now tear those we don’t agree with down by dismissing their art as worthless. E.g.”Gergiev is a Putin supporter, ergo his conducting is crap, he smells, has disgusting personal habits, moves his hands in objectionable ways when conducting, he doesn’t shave properly, doesn’t turn up on time, orchestras hate him and he is co-responsible for Putin’s vicious and totally unprovoked attack on Georgia, Putin’s illegal and violent annexation of the Crimea…” I’m disappointed that a forum like this, which pretends to address purely musical matters, allows itself to be transformed into an online Volkische Beobachter. Role-reversed, of course. Why Norman allows this to happen (nay, encourages it) is totally beyond me.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Rehearsing is part of the profession, as dubious political ties are not. And then, if such political ties go quite far into distasteful territory, the professional achievements, however good they may be, no longer compensate for human or moral flaws. In a time when Russia tries to undermine Europe by supporting rightwing extremist parties, and is pointing nuclear warheads again to European cities as if nothing has been learned from the past, any support for the Russian regime deserves to be condemned and its allies stopped from functioning in the West.

          • M2N2K says:

            Your first parenthetical statement seems to imply that Gergiev and Netrebko are flawless human beings. One can only hope that you did not really mean it.

          • Robert Groen says:

            Never implied anything of the sort. I’m not flawless, who is? You?

    • M2N2K says:

      Replying to “Bruce”:
      novelty factor;
      quite possible; very likely.

  • Gustavo says:

    Are there also conductors that over-rehearse, i.e. get in the way, but don’t help?

    • M2N2K says:


    • Saxon Broken says:

      For over-rehearsing, think of conductors who have a reputation for being “fussy” or “mannered” and not letting the music flow.

    • Edgar Self says:

      To Gustavo re rehearsing: Hans Knappertsbusch famously disliked rehearsing and avoided it where possible; Beecham was cavalier about them (and other things). Furtwaengler rehearsed in such detail that Lauritz Melchior complained publicly. Yet they got results.

      An example: Yevgeny Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic were good in Tchaikovsky symphonies, but there is far more expressivity and detail in Gergiev’s records with Vienna Philharmonic, themselves not known for devotion to rehearsing,

      I wish, though, that Gergiev shaved oftener.

      Mravinsky’s Leningraders were by report seated, warmed,and tuned an hour before rehearsals. In the USA rehearsals are highly organised and efficient under watchful eyes and stop-watches of union representatives who halt them in mid phrase with the regularity of television advertisements.

      (The other Edgar)

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Here we go again: everyone going completely off the rails. You’re arguing over reviewers! That’s like sports talk hosts yammering about other sports talks hosts or columnists.

    The questions is this: was this a good Tannhauser or not? Plain and simple. If not, who and what was responsible? I’m sure there were more problems than just Gergiev’s conducting.

  • NYMike says:

    After witnessing Gergiev’s spastic hand-waving during Le Sacre, I asked a NY Phil friend how the band followed him. She replied, “we don’t look.”

    • Gustavo says:

      So the hooded Bayreuth-pit of the future should shield-off the orchestra from the audience AND the conductor.

  • DYB says:

    As a natural-born Ukrainian now living in the US, I was appalled but not surprised by Gergiev’s behavior during the demonstrations in the US. He showed similar indifference to Putin’s anti-LGBTQ laws when NYers protested his appearance. Gergiev wants to defend Putin and if anyone complains, he shrugs it off as “I’m just a musician!” (Netrebko does the same thing.) If they were just musicians, they would have kept their mouths shut about Putin. But they don’t. They want to have it both ways. Cowards.

  • Robert Groen says:

    By the way, Norman, I did enjoy the Shostakovich reference in the headline. “Just Criticism”….… That was the Ninth, wasn’t it?

    • M2N2K says:

      No, not the Ninth. If I am not mistaken, it was how DS publicly “described” or “explained” his Fifth Symphony as his response to the front page article in Pravda (written or at least ordered by Stalin himself) about “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk”.

  • I don’t know whether performers are obliged to read their reviews – but the music world needs, and should read, well done music criticism in order to survive.

  • One could add to this– Gergiev is responding by mentioning numbers of people who heard him, the media, etc. However, performers today, especially those with famous names, might realize that fame, the media, the status quo, size of audience – none of this means that they are doing their best or doing well. In today’s world of media, more than ever, it only means that they continue in name recognition. This problem is something that critics might well point out to well known performers – the danger of believing that their status in media and size of audience means they are doing well.