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As between friends... conductor Valery Gergiev

Monday, 12 July 2010 , ora 11.02

A meeting with Valery Gergiev should be a privilege for anyone, be it music lover or not, journalist or not, so I had nervously been waiting for the meeting with the Russian conductor organized by the Dresden Festival. On May 25th 2010, with 3 hours before the concerto of the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra was about to take place at the Cultural Palace in Dresden under his baton, Valery Gergiev made his appearance to an unconventional press conference, that was rather a meeting between friends.

I have extracted the most interesting fragments from Valery Gergiev's speech, who was kind enough to tell me, in the end, about his planned concerts within the 2011 Enescu Festival. One of the subjects we discusser about was the Dresden Festival award, offered each year to an outstanding music personality, who is at the same time concerned with the promotion of the young interpreters- the Glashutte award, named after the sponsor, worth 25.000 Euro.

What is Valery Gergiev going to do with this money?

The moment I received this award, I decided to give this money to the Tchaikovsky Contest in Moscow; the steering committee is going to gather now, in June, but I have earlier announced my decision; what remains to be decided is whether we are going to give awards to the recipients of each category: violin, canto, piano, cello, but I do not want to take this final decision- regarding the next year's contest - all by myself.

You may not know, but since Slava Rostropovic's death, the position of this contest's president was taken over by me, precisely because Slava wanted so much the returning of this contest to its formerly glint, to stand as a very important event for today's young interpreters, a true symbol of classical music.

The Tchaikovsky Contest continued to bring into the light important names; one of its recipients is the piano player that will perform within the Dresden Contest on May 25th 2010: Denis Matsuev, the one who won the competition's golden medal 12 years ago. Though we have recently started to collaborate, we have already initiated a successful tournament throughout the United States and Canada, but also in Japan, Germany and France. We have already brought out two CDs together, both based on a rather modern repertoire; of a great importance is the fact that Denis Matsuev is momentarily changing his repertoire used for the Tchaikovsky Concert, adapting it to further Concerts: Shchedrin, Szymanovski, Richard Strauss, Shostakovich. He is still a young piano player, but young people should know that classical music is not represented only by some few genius figures like: Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius - these are simply the authors of some widely known musical pieces. Thus, the Tchaikovsky Contest in Moscow is organized nowadays with the precise purpose of widening out the repertoire, diversifying the repertoire.

"Look", I told Matsuev: "Why don't you learn Stravinsky's Capriccio?" "I have never studied it." "Then do it." He studied this work and he performed it several weeks ago in New York, within the Stravinsky Festival.

I think it is of a great importance to help young musicians, for, we have also been helped; I remember Evgheny Mravinsky, who had never been my professor, died in 1988, but only God and I know how much he influenced me - enormously. Thanks to him and his orchestra - I was a student at that time, I was 18-19 years old - I have learned the meaning of a good orchestra, the quality of a sound, what is interpretation, what is the symphonic form, what does dynamics and its control presupposes, the meaning of the timbres within an orchestra - the fact that a violin sounds different from any other, and that a group of violins sound different from another group. So, even if Mravinsky had never given me a single lesson, I nevertheless consider him as the most important professor of mine.

It is very important to help young interpreters and, every time I feel there is something wrong with one of them, I immediately act. This was the case of Anna Netrebko, but also of the three boys, so to say, the three musketeers: Vengerov, Kissin, Repin. Maxim Vengerov was 11 years old, Evgeny Kissin 13 - it was then when I first listened to them and it was my decision, of course, to play together, so I brought them to Germany, England, France, because I was truly shocked by their talent, not only technical, but also emotional and artistical, and by their ability to perform in front of a public so early. The future was favourable to them, and the three of them have become outstanding figures.

I performed alongside with Anna Netrebko on May 23rd in St. Petersburg, within the White Nights Festival that made its debut on May 21st and it goes on very well. During the month of June I will be there almost all the time. This is the biggest festival among the 6 I manage and it has already a 17 years history.

The White Nights Festival brings forth many new performances, for opera and ballet. During the moths of May, June and even a part of July, the audience gathered from abroad is huge.

At the age of 7, I was not thinking of classical music at all. Somehow, my mother succeeded in making me become interested in music, the more I did not quite understand why I had to stay for an hour at the piano and practice scales. Besides the fact she was closely paying attention to my professors' pieces of advice, she also took very seriously note of my piano teacher's recommendations of studying the conducting of the orchestra.

When I was told I would be a conductor I was truly amazed. I am not saying it was a bad news, but my mind was simply elsewhere. I was playing football in the street, in a region called- South Ossetia- where football is actually very popular; the size of the ball is of no importance, as long as it is a ball. It was only later I had understood that music is my destiny - I know it sounds slightly pathetic - but I somehow realised I wanted to play the piano and that conducting was not so bad after all. However, it was very difficult, I was being told to play the score for the orchestra, which means 30 simultaneous scales instead of 2 at the piano, so I did not even know where to look. Thus, the first couple of years were quite difficult. But my conducting professor from St. Petersburg, the famous Mr. Musin, helped me, being deeply involved alongside his students. He told me one day: "You know, the first 70 years are more difficult. Afterwards, it all gets easier."

I held 10 charity concertos after the 2004 tragedy in Breslan, alongside with my friends, Domingo, Hvorostovsky, Repin, Anna Netrebko. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra also held two charity concertos, under my direction. But this is not about politics. I am from Ossetia and I know exactly what the matter regarding this situation is about, even those who did not know, have, somehow, found out. I think that even the international community noticed it was not about a black and white scenario. Musicians should not make political statements, these are not necessary at all, but I have seen the parents who lost their children and the children who lost their parents and speak the Osset language. So, I do not have to watch it the Russian Television or the CNN in order to find out the truth, I can find it out from the people that live here and which I know for 40 years. I do not mix politics with humane matters, this is not what I intended to do. There are millions of people who merely want to live peacefully and are not able to achieve this desideratum, and, since the politicians who govern them fail to do so, there is no hope for the population to live in peace.

If people tell you that you are influent, there is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, for we have to do something in order to make a better world. We live in a country in which there are asked many important questions: first of all, if our world is up to the standard regarding the quality, that is - water, food, but Bill Clinton is concerned with the sustainable quality of the whole world, and I think he is an intelligent man with experience, so, his disquietudes should concern us too.

At this gala - Time, where the most 100 influent people on earth are nominated, I sat next to Elton John, but it was like sitting next to you, I did not lose my head because of this. Several years ago, Anna Netrebko was on this list too; classical music should be represented in all important serious lists, we believe that through these appearances we serve music; music is important to us and we hope it is important to millions of other people in the world.

It is important to me to go on with with Mariinsky. The 228th session will start in 2010. It began as an imperial theatre, under a German princess, Catherine the Great, who gave a decree in 1783: "An imperial theatre for chants and dance will be brought into being", and that is how it started. Well - it was only in 1860 that Mariinsky was built up under the form we see it today, it used to be a wooden theatre, as they were all over the Europe.

I would define my influence briefly: I direct more often than other conductors do. I direct about 200 concertos per year, which is an astronomical number, but 30-40% of those concertos I direct pro bono for the young audience and the very young one, that is, the children who come to the concerto with their parents or grandparents. I invented the Moscow Festival whose concept changed quickly: we have a charter train that is taking us to big cities such as Ekaterinburg, Samara, Novosibirsk, Murmansk, Arhanghelsk - these are big cities with more than 1 million inhabitants in which we perform two concertos: at one of them, the entrance is free. It is my desire not to receive diplomats, bureaucrats, agents, managers at these concertos, but only people who may even not know what a symphonic orchestra is, as well as children from music schools.

When the crisis started, I have blocked other acquisitions and I have bought only a new collection of string instruments for the Mariinsky Orchestra. There were a lot of disputes in the theatre, for a chair or a cup are also valuable, but, in times of crises, I think we need within the orchestra a Stradivarius violin or a Guarneri cello. I have not come to Dresden with all these instruments, but only with some of them. This is another facet of my influence, for not every conductor is able to do so because his superiors might think that other things are more important. But look, I said: we need a new musical hall and, even if some were against it, I did not give up. And if you look at the overall picture, you may notice I was right in these regards: the instruments, the musical hall, now we are building a second theatre, let's hope it will go on well and we will have good acoustics.

I have already been in Bucharest 4 or 5 times, each time I enjoyed collaborating with the Romanian musicians, artists, I bear a high esteem to the widely-known Romanian interpreters. I will direct the Enescu Festival, I have already done it. It will be a great pleasure for me and my colleagues.

Cristina Comandașu
Translated by Cristina Neculai and Andreea Velicu
MA Students, MTTLC, Bucharest University