Exclusive: The Valery Gergiev I knew

Exclusive: The Valery Gergiev I knew


norman lebrecht

May 01, 2022

In the new issue of The Critic, I write about my 30-year connection with the Putin conductor.

… His family knew how to work the Soviet system. An uncle who designed tanks for Stalin placed Gergiev with the elusive Professor Ilya Musin at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatoire.

It was from Gergiev’s lips that I first heard the name Vladimir Putin.

Gergiev kept the Mariinsky’s earnings in a Russian bank which, like many in the 1990s, went bust. Penniless, he turned to Putin, the city’s deputy mayor, who covered the wage bill. Later, as president, Putin gave Gergiev the national monopoly for selling turkey meat, turning him into a minigarch with a private jet and, reportedly, a Putin-like palace in the Caucasus. Those two, Putin and Gergiev, go back a long way….

Read on here.




  • Peter Schünemann says:

    In one point your memory seems to betray you. If I am not mistaken, the Gergiev-Matsuev relationship began much later, for sure after Seppo Heikinheimo’s suicide in 1997. Maybe you mean Alexander Toradze, who was participating in Gergiev’s Mikkeli Music Festival from the beginning in 1993.

  • music lover says:

    Fair assessment.

  • IP says:

    Do you have parent control for this blog?

  • Jonathan Sutherland says:

    “Putin gave Gergiev the national monopoly for selling turkey meat”.
    Is this why VG was so keen to conduct Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le Coq d’Or?

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Why was Musin elusive?

  • Morgan says:

    Very well balanced and nuanced, Norman.

  • anmarie says:

    What a haunted face.

  • BigSir says:

    Keep in mind that Gergiev is being skewered now for what he hasn’t said. That should always be wrong.

    • Paracelsus says:

      Really? Why? Please enlighten us.

      • BigSir says:

        Here in the US, forcing people to take an oath for or against has a negative historical context. Though now, it appears to be coming back through the fascist left.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Mr. Lebrecht makes a very valid point: “There was always some good in the Valery Gergiev I knew. I hope he, and we, can find it again.” It is true for most people, hopefully. Nobody deserves to be assessed in black and white terms.

    Reportedly Gergiev gave Alberto Vilar $500,000 when his old benefactor fell on hard times. It’s hard to imagine any ulterior motive on Gergiev’s part.

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    Moscow in the morning and New York in the afternoon is a feat not unheard of.

    Other equally famous conductors hold rehearsals near a frozen lake on a Friday morning, only to saunter deep into a rain forest in the afternoon of the same day.

    I promise you, where we play, it’s just routine.

  • Alexander T says:

    An overhyped showman.

  • tanya says:

    To me it looks like yet another example how whatever and whoever Putin touches turns compromised, spoiled, corrupted and dead. They all are beyond redemption, especially after all that atrocities of the current war in Ukraine.

  • prof says:

    This portrait of reminiscence tells me very little about Gergiev that I find humanizing or endearing.

  • Player says:

    Ah but that Lohengrin at Covent Garden in 1997… the the Grail itself descended on the pit.

  • Avraham Presman says:

    He is a great conductor, the rest is not my business.

  • Robin Worth says:

    Most illuminating
    Did not know that he was the champion of Prokofiev over Stravinsky but maybe that explains why his War and Peace at the Met was so good, with that wonderful orchestra and and a great, lavish production such as only the Met could have put on
    But that was years ago…..sad what came later

    • Frank says:

      From what I have heard in the concert hall Gergiev nor the Mariinsky Orch has any affinity or even interest in neo-Classical or American Stravinsky. I remember an ‘Agon’ which could have been bettered by any student orchestra. The Mariinsky is very much a pit orchestra (or rather, a collection of musicians) that prefers to do familiar repertoire. Then they can be terrific. I could imagine Prokofiev returning to the USSR is a story that particularly pleases some Russians.