While conductor extraordinaire Valery Gergiev was in town last week to complete his Mahler Cycle with the London Symphony Orchestra, he stopped by to talk with Gilbert Kaplan, host of “Mad About Music.”
- His interpretation of Mahler is sharply influenced by “the human understanding of Gustav Maher of the world he was living in.”
- Pieces he has still not yet conducted: Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony and Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
- Why he has returned to conducting in white tie and tails: “Maybe I made some mistakes just wearing a shirt.”
- Why he took a blisteringly fast tempo for the finale of Mahler’s Seventh and tried to create a “red hot” conclusion of the first movement.
- He worries about losing the audience: “What I fear most they start to feel ugh, uninteresting, boring, too slow, maybe too loud or too pretentious.”
- Why he no longer conducts with such large dramatic gestures.
- His musical selections are from Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Schubert and Rimsky-Korsakov.
Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 5. Adagietto [excerpt]. London Symphony Orchestra. Valery Gergiev. LSO Live LSO0664.
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64. Third movement [excerpt]. Vienna Philharmonic. Valery Gergiev. Philips 28946 29052.
Franz Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C major, D944 “Great.” Third movement [excerpt]. Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Wilhelm Furtwängler. September 15, 1953 “Live Performance.” Music & Arts CD-795.
Vassily Solovyev-Sedoy Moscow Nights.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade, Op. 35. Finale [excerpt]. Kirov Orchestra. Valery Gergiev. Philips 289 470 840-2.
GILBERT KAPLAN: Welcome back to “Mad About Music” with my guest conductor extraordinaire, Valery Gergiev.
He first appeared on “Mad About Music” 8 years ago and now he’s back in New York completing a full cycle of Mahler’s symphonies with the Orchestras of the Mariinsky Theatre and the London Symphony – both of which he serves as Music Director. We caught the Maestro on the run – he’s always on the run – in between performances of a riveting Mahler’s Seventh and the Third Symphony – he’ll conduct in a few hours…And on the eve of the release of his recording of the Fifth Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra. Valery Gergiev, nice to have you back on “Mad About Music.”
VALERY GERGIEV: My pleasure.
KAPLAN: Now, let’s talk about Mahler. Your Mahler, after all, even though he provides the most detailed instructions on how he thinks the music should be played, all conductors find their own way. I mean, Bernstein pushed the emotional side of it; Pierre Boulez would be on the opposite end, sort of clinical, tidy. How would you describe Valery Gergiev’s Mahler?
GERGIEV: Well, if I say I try to express to the maximum the human emotion, the human understanding of the world we’re living in, and most importantly the human understanding by Gustav Mahler of the world he was living in, that’s the answer from me.
KAPLAN: It’s hard of course to pin down what you mean when you concentrate on the human side. But one way to look at it is to talk about the issue of tempo, probably the most important decision a conductor makes, I suppose. Now, your performance a few nights ago of the Seventh was not only an emotional roller coaster, to my ears at least, but you took a blistering fast pace. I would guess that the last movement when it’s measured will clock in maybe as a world record, I don’t know.
GERGIEV: I maybe favor rather fast and energetic although maybe slightly light-ish feeling for the tempo in the last movement of the Seventh Symphony because it clearly says it’s a rondo finale. Rondo, at least in my view, never represents something very bombastic, very heavy, very, if I may use this word, teutonic, you know, so to move away from this heaviness and where the tempi will be very broad and sometimes make this movement quite a tiring experience.
KAPLAN: Now someone told me that, who knows how you work that you actually had a good deal of trouble deciding what to do with this last movement. You wouldn’t be the first. Every conductor looks at this last movement and it’s a puzzle.
GERGIEV: Yes, I was dissatisfied with my own performances. I didn’t need to go and listen to other conductors. I felt strongly that somewhere in the middle of the final movement, I felt myself like someone who starts to lose their patience and lose focus because it felt like, again this movement is too monstrous and too, maybe simply too repetitive, too repetitive, so to bring this needed lightness and rapidness finally was my decision. And I had maybe a sleepless night; I remember I spent much time with the score, just trying to find the relationships between the movements and especially relationships between the different tempi in the last movement. It’s not that all of it is fast, by the way. In the first movement the beginning is maybe slower than most conductors, then allegro and development throughout first movement somehow picks towards the end of this movement and becomes, if you use the words “red hot,” then maybe this is how I can explain the sound world of this first movement.
KAPLAN: Those are good words, I like those for that first movement and you certainly had it. Now, with Mahler there are often extra musical considerations for the conductor, maybe, it depends on how you look at it; and as you know for a while he wrote formal programs of what the music was meant to mean and in your new recording of the Fifth Symphony, it’s a good way of getting at that issue because he didn’t write a program for that but as you know he did provide some guides. The first movement is labeled “death march,” the scherzo he said is “a depiction of mankind at the bright light of day and the peak of life,” that’s his quote of course, and then you have of course this dreamy Adagietto, which he later reported was actually a love letter, a love song without words he sent to his fiancée, Alma, who’d become his wife. Are these ideas reflected at all in your interpretation when you’re aware of Mahler’s programmatic ideas?
GERGIEV: My experience tells me, and don’t forget I am also opera conductor, I don’t conduct only symphonies. But I long ago discovered that a composer somehow corners himself and puts himself and his music in a very, very difficult position if everything what one can simply feel or say about it, the important composition, will come to five or six lines basically given by the composer himself. I think it’s a trap, I think it’s a danger, clear limitation. You have to know everything possibly what belongs to the composer, what belongs to the world of symphony, but it’s your ability as a musician, your intuition and your imagination, which will always tell you, is it too light, is it too heavy, is it too fast, is it too slow, is it too, what I used already today, the word bombastic, or it’s simply too lightweight to the point that there is no importance in your statement? Composers never pretend to tire the public to such an extent that people simply want to leave the concert hall. That’s a nightmare scenario for composers. But as a listener, we all as listeners, we know that this is what happens quite often. And at some point you loose interest already in the middle of the first movement, you start to feel that this performance unfortunately is not a very lucky experience, it’s a total waste of your own time. This is what I fear most if people come to my concerts and they start to feel that, ugh, uninteresting, boring, too slow or maybe too loud, or maybe too pretentious or maybe too artificially shaped.
KAPLAN: Well, we’ve been talking so much about Mahler and your new recording of the Fifth, so we ought to hear a little bit of it and we’re going to hear a little bit of the famous Adagietto, this dreamy, lyrical, slow movement.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, the London Symphony Orchestra and on the podium my guest today, conductor Valery Gergiev. All right, let’s leave Mahler now and talk about your own development since you were last on the show eight years ago. Now, your repertoire has surely grown, but I’m wondering, are there any major symphonies or popular operas you have not yet conducted?
GERGIEV: Yes, there are and I am certainly hopeful my repertoire will continue to grow. For example, it was only one and a half year ago I discovered Frau ohne Schatten. Die Frau ohne Schatten is one of the best operas Richard Strauss composed.
KAPLAN: I’m thinking of ones you haven’t touched at all. Any major symphonies or operas?
GERGIEV: Yes. I think Eighth Symphony of Bruckner is on my list for sure, Pelléas and Mélisande is on my list for sure for some time already. I’m a little bit more careful with announcing that I will conduct even such a great opera like Così fan tutte, for example, so I’m careful. I still didn’t conduct Zauberflöte, although we have production which already was performed maybe 80 or 90 times in the last three or four years, it’s a relatively new production, very popular. I didn’t conduct it. I conducted a few times La nozze di Figaro, and again I’m waiting for a perfect cast and perfect acoustical situation that I can work on this opera and make sure that I am myself more or less satisfied with my performance. So far it didn’t happen.
KAPLAN: Now I know that you’ve got Mahler’s Third Symphony on your mind right now and need a little time for your final preparations before you once again mount the podium at Lincoln Center tonight. But before I send you on your way, one last question which interests me: we are witnessing today the emergence of some extremely talented, very young conductors in their 20s.
GERGIEV: Young conductors are supported. Which is good, I think it’s healthy. I don’t think we should pay more attention to, let’s say, how childish is a face of conductor, we still have to have somehow very strong, better even born ability to hear the music the conductor makes, to hear the music even if you close your eyes, even if you don’t see how elegantly he’s dressed with a frock being so tight on his young and maybe thin body. That’s not the priority. The priority is to hear the musician. I’m now new chairman of Tchaikovsky competition. I’ll be under huge pressure simply not to miss someone very, very gifted.
KAPLAN: But you know, I was just taken when you said we shouldn’t respond too much how elegantly a young conductor might look in his frock, which is another way of saying white tie and tails, and I couldn’t help notice the other night that you were wearing such an outfit and I have a feeling over the years I’ve seen you abandon that mostly to wearing a Chinese-type jacket or something like that without a tie. What’s the fashion story with you these days?
GERGIEV: I think it’s not totally convincing if conductor thinks he is such a great musician that it doesn’t really matter how he looks. I think if you’re coming to the hall where people go after seven, eight hours at work and they wear sometimes also their best in a suit and a tie and they go to, if I may say, a fortress of arts something where magic somehow lives, where people don’t speak too loudly, they whisper or they don’t speak at all because they want to focus on music which is for many a really terribly important part of their lives. Then maybe the conductor better dresses well, and it doesn’t matter if the conductor is 90 years old or 19 years old. I maybe made some mistakes; maybe I was sometimes wearing just a shirt. I have a company, friends of mine, Zegna, they make very good men’s clothes, and they make a special suit for me which basically covers you up to the throat, you know. And I was suffering to the point that after 15 - 20 minutes I didn’t remember anything I was doing. I just only - using my left hand to stand firm and my right hand to move just to beat the tempo because you basically are in a sauna.
KAPLAN: All right. Then I’m going to ask one final question before I dispatch you to the waiting public at Lincoln Center. Since you say you are your own worst or best critic; it’s eight years since you’ve been on this show. Have you gotten better?
GERGIEV: Yes. Wiser and sometimes you see things didn’t go well at all, so you learn something. So learning something was maybe the most important part of last eight years of my life. I learned quite a lot about certain composers, about certain compositions, which definitely includes both the cycle of Mahler symphonies and the cycle of Shostakovich symphonies, very definitely.
KAPLAN: When Mahler was observed over the years, we’ve been talking about Mahler so much as a composer, but as you know he was a great conductor. As he got more experienced, and was considered better and better, the size of his gestures, the amount of motion he made on the stage, got smaller and smaller because he realized he didn’t have to show such exaggerated efforts. Now in your performance a few nights ago of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, I noticed that some of the most extraordinary, huge moments were coming about without you making huge gestures, that the orchestra could follow a smaller gesture and still know it meant give everything you can. Was I right about this? Have you tended to become a little bit less demonstrative and big gestures?
GERGIEV: Oh, this is as natural as melting of the snow or coming of the spring or yellow leaves on the trees in the autumn. You mature and then certain processes will take place. So, it’s absolutely wrong to think that hands, two hands, are the decisive factor of the profession of conductor. It’s the expression of the face of the conductor, it’s his magnetic power, if any, if any, it has to be magnetic because some musicians have no interest in simply looking at a conductor. But it’s very difficult for any musician to ignore a conductor who has this magnetic presence on stage, it’s simply impossible because music demands and the music is the strongest person on stage, not conductor. But music demands some kind of leadership at some point, and music demands some kind of intensity, high voltage, you know, to just be there because this music demands this kind of enormous change either into fantastic intensity or maybe most dreamy and most uniquely magical touch and conductor has to provide it. If he missed opportunity, then most probably, no one will be interested on stage and that’s why the public will be also deprived of enjoying the music fully.
KAPLAN: Valery Gergiev, always a superb guest. Our best wishes for a dramatic and impressive evening with Mahler Three tonight. Please come back again.
GERGIEV: Thank you, thank you. It was my pleasure to be here.
KAPLAN: So, to complete our program today we’ll revisit Maestro Gergiev’s earlier appearance on the show and start with his views about critics – which I suspect haven’t changed very much. Like all conductors, he’s had his share of raves and pans and I asked him if what the critics write really matters to him.
GERGIEV: Could be. I certainly have to be criticized and happily I accept that I have to be criticized all the time because as Georg Solti, famous colleague and supporter, and friend of mine, Sir Georg Solti told me, “don’t read reviews.” I said why, I was shocked, surprised and upset. It was a time when out of ten, nine reviews would be so-so good about me, I was a young conductor ’94, 95, 96, 92, I don’t know. You remember I brought Kirov for the first time to the Met. In general, people liked it. I started to conduct the New York Philharmonic or Chicago Symphony; in general people liked it, and I was reading someplace about me that here is this young conductor who was blah, blah, blah, and I thought it was important. And he told me, well, if you believe good ones, then you have to believe bad ones. Don’t read them.
KAPLAN: Well, Solti told me once that he greatly admired you. He discovered you quite early on. And when he was asked toward the end of his career, well, what do you do next? His answer was, “I just try to get better every single time.” And so since you have said that you sometimes feel you should be criticized, what is your own self-criticism in the sense of, what do you think you can do better?
GERGIEV: I discovered that I don’t have to conduct many orchestras, too many orchestras. I don’t have to give away too many commitments, because you are sometimes a slave of your own promise if you gave it too freely years ago, then you absolutely have to do it now. Then I have to focus, and focus means sometimes more time for yourself. And there are performances which, after you do it, you start to think that, well maybe this performance was not a must, it was not maybe needed, it was just — but believe me, many performers, many artists, if they will be honest enough, they will say that only a portion of what we do is really important, and maybe really successful or really good. I agree that good conductors are critics of themselves. Conductors normally are very egocentric, so they think of themselves of course very highly, but at the same time, subconscious always tell them, well, there were big people in the past, and they were so big, can we compete? So at least I always feel that we have shortcomings rather than advantages.
KAPLAN: Well, it strikes me that if there is any area where historical comparisons are going to be made, it’s in the most familiar repertoire, such as your selection today Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. So let me start by asking you whether you regard this as a particularly difficult symphony to conduct?
GERGIEV: When conductor thinks that he can “read” the Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky, and anyone needs it, he is either total idiot, or someone who discovered something about – I mean, something really important. Can you imagine how many performances of Fifth Symphony are taking place every minute, maybe worldwide?
KAPLAN: I understand there may be so many performances going on all the time, but what exactly is it about this symphony that is so challenging for a conductor?
GERGIEV: It’s one of the best classical symphonies. It’s so perfectly shaped. When we speak about Fifth Symphony of Beethoven, we can do the same thing. Well, Tchaikovsky, he’s very close to being trivial and even cheap. But how close? That’s the question for the conductor to answer. Then he’s very close to being genius who competes with any symphonist of any time. But again, how close? to Beethoven? or to Brahms – although he was certainly his opposite. This is the question. To never sound cheap, but to sound very generous is one risk; to never sound repetitive; square is another risk you face in the reading of Tchaikovsky. So you have to change something. You have to change the mood of every bar. It’s a risk. So you have to interfere in the playing of orchestra, and orchestra has to feel that this is a right thing, rather than a wrong thing. Disturbing the safety of rhythm is not a good thing at all, but it depends which orchestra is in front of you, how much trust they have in you or how much trust you have in them.
KAPLAN: All right, well then, let's hear a bit of your approach to this Fifth Symphony.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from the third movement from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, the Vienna Philharmonic led by Valery Gergiev, as we continue to revisit his earlier appearance on “Mad About Music.” When we return, we’ll ask Valery Gergiev for his report card on some famous historical conductors.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest on “Mad About Music,” conductor Valery Gergiev. All right, now you said today’s conductors are always looking over their shoulders at the giants of the past. But who are the conductors of the past that you most admire?
GERGIEV: There are a few names, which I cannot ignore, even if I wished. Furtwängler – great German conductor; not only conducting but also his artistic statement, in a very, very complicated times, of Second World War. Hitler being there, in power. He remained general music director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra which was in a way tragic but still, thanks God, it gave so much to the world of culture, because there had to be someone who would continue one of the greatest traditions ever existed in classical music. So it was him, in a very difficult circumstances. I very much respect also his readings of romantic repertoire like Beethoven symphonies, Wagner or Richard Strauss. Brahms, Schubert, fantastic, fantastic readings. They really give me, at least, as much information, as much inspiration, when you think about who was Schubert, who was Mozart, who was Strauss or Wagner, what kind of musicians they are.
KAPLAN: You know you're not the first to cite Furtwängler for his amazing abilities, but I wonder if you can be a little more specific for our audience. What for example are his musical ideas, or his interpretive ideas that you think makes him such a star?
GERGIEV: The most difficult thing in conducting is not to slip into mechanical beating. So this restless search for a real tempo, a real pulse, of practically each bar of music, rather than just one tempo for one movement, is something what very few conductors could ever master. Not many conductors will confess, maybe, that it will be something difficult for them to do, but then they will go and compete with Furtwängler, and most probably lose. Because it’s kind of God-given gift, a genius quality, which one conductor contributes to the playing of the orchestra – I describe it in the following. You can’t possibly imagine this same orchestra play the way they play with Furtwängler if you just remove him from the podium. It is just not possible to imagine they will do the same thing. They will be even maybe more organized, they’ll be very focused in a certain ensemble, but they will never deliver this kind of incredible expression which he is able to bring to life once being in front of an orchestra. No matter if it was Berlin Philharmonic or Hamburg Radio Orchestra or Vienna Philharmonic, so that was his incredible quality.
KAPLAN: Now some people would say you’ve just described Valery Gergiev by that.
GERGIEV: Not, certainly not. Well, you see, I don’t think I’m the smartest man, but smart enough to understand that I cannot be compared to conductors like Furtwängler. My own way, although, I will defend, and I will think it was the last thing I had to do, ever, if I just was to follow an orchestra. I think it makes it totally unneeded today if conductors, and there are like maybe thousand conductors, if they are there just to serve, to accompany – I mean – we are not in a restaurant, where we just bring a menu and someone will tell us what to do. Conducting, music directorship means that you in fact lead, and you sometimes decide, and sometimes you, if needed, attack; if needed, you will maybe defend composers. Sometimes you have to do something outrageously unusual, that the people will notice that there is this musical idea.
KAPLAN: Well, after all that buildup, I think it's time we heard some Furtwängler. What did you bring today?
GERGIEV: The “Great” symphony of Franz Schubert. We call it No. 9, sometimes we call it No. 7, but number doesn’t matter; the quality of symphony and the quality of interpretation: amazing. I believe in every movement there are so many changes of tempo. First, fantastic theme with horns are playing, and then, in the Second Movement, also it's very, very, it seems to be very settled but then it becomes so desperately dramatic. And again, the Third Movement, it’s not just going like a clock, you know, da-da-da-da-DA-da-da-da-DA, it has the, you know, it has a bite, it has a freedom, it has a fire, and it has a style, so it’s very Austrian. Schubert was really a shy man, but hear how this shy man sounds in the hands of Furtwängler.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from the third movement of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, often called “The Great.” The Berlin Philharmonic led by Wilhelm Furtwängler, a conductor without peer as judged by my guest on “Mad About Music”—another conductor, Valery Gergiev. All right, before we were talking about conductors you admire and you mentioned Furtwängler. How would you compare him to Toscanini?
GERGIEV: I certainly admire Toscanini, a total antipode of Furtwängler, because in his hands, rhythm, maybe because he was such a great Italian symbol of everything Italian, character, speed, the fire; but he was a conductor who would be able to convert a rhythm into something what I would call, it became a character in itself, where rhythmic improvisation becomes so madly charged with energy that you start to feel that you are yourself jumping in the chair, together with the pulse of music, because he just gave these electric shocks to the orchestra every second, every second, he never allowed it to go just too smoothly, you know. He was one of the highest charged performers of all times and totally different. He was not a philosopher like Furtwängler – he didn’t maybe like to change tempo the way that Furtwängler would do. But he’s very Italian. The great thing about them was that they represented the great cultures and they did it brilliantly.
KAPLAN: You say they did it brilliantly, and I've often wondered exactly what it is that makes a performance become brilliant. And it's clear that it's not just a technical matter. Now earlier you said how important trust is if a conductor is going to push an orchestra to take risks. But I also wonder what other things that can go wrong when you do this?
GERGIEV: Cooperation with orchestra is very important. Orchestra should never feel that conductor hates the music. Because if they start to feel it, they become totally – let's say – abandoned.
KAPLAN: Did you say that a conductor would be hating the music he’s conducting?
GERGIEV: Well, sometimes you feel that conductor maybe doesn’t like the music.
KAPLAN: Why is he conducting it?
GERGIEV: Well, that’s a good question. But we are all professionals. It’s a very good word, but it’s also a very dangerous word. Some people think they have to simply professionally do it. They go and do it. Maybe some of them just beat the time, some of them are fantastic professionals, they will beat time very well. But do they really love the music, and why they love it? The answer is go and listen to a Furtwängler recording or Toscanini; I addressed to the same spot, that any young conductor who will hear, he will be disturbed, maybe by a couple of pizzicato played not together. But if he’s really gifted young man, he will have to be shocked by the depth of reading of Brahms Fourth Symphony, for example.
KAPLAN: Well, I don't think that either Furtwängler or Toscanini would come to mind for our next segment as we now come to that part of our show called the “wildcard” where, as our listeners know, each guest can pick a work that’s not a classical work or an opera. It can be in any genre, popular music, jazz. What “wildcard” did you bring us today?
GERGIEV: Well, I was born in Moscow myself, and I somehow love this famous “Moscow Nights” song. Composer’s name is Solovyev-Sedoy. He was not Shostakovich but he was extremely loved and popular in my country, mostly because of this melody. I mean, his gift for melody is amazing. We should remember that melody is at the heart of music, so to say. Verdi proved it, Mozart proved it, Puccini proved it, Rossini proved it, Tchaikovsky proved it and so on. I think we have to remember that if 500 million people can sing the melody, it most probably belongs to a genius.
KAPLAN: The popular song, “Moscow Nights,” a favorite and a wildcard selection of my guest on “Mad About Music,” conductor Valery Gergiev. When we return we’ll explore why Valery Gergiev prefers to make his recordings from live performances.
This is Gilbert Kaplan, as we continue to revisit Valery Gergiev’s earlier appearance on “Mad About Music.” Now your recordings these days are almost always from live performances. Part of the reason of course is that it’s simply too expensive today to make studio recordings. But at the same time, some conductors prefer live recordings because they believe they are more spontaneous and I gather you feel this way too.
GERGIEV: I mean there are millions of recordings on the market, which finally become just, just a piece of metal, you know? Because instead of being a form of art, it’s overloaded, so you really have to see it as a danger, and again, the recording, every recording. I hope they will be very good recordings, but I insist that we will do it live because there is a chance that live concert, you can inject something. What is coming with the help of public. You don’t perform for the wall. You don’t perform for acoustic. You perform for people who enjoy this acoustic and are put inside these walls.
KAPLAN: Well, I see your next selection is one of the best-known pieces in the symphonic repertoire, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. Now you've been talking about trying to create unique performances, performances that bring something special, and since you've already recorded this piece, tell me what section would best illuminate Valery Gergiev's approach?
GERGIEV: Well, Scheherazade is deservedly famous. I don’t think it’s performed so, so often today like maybe it was 40, 50 years ago worldwide. He was a great master of orchestra, and then of course fantastic rhythmic energy in the Fourth Movement, which, ironically, is called “Festivities in Baghdad.” I mean that has nothing to do with Baghdad today, but it’s an attempt to have a program music describing this famous Arabian 1,001 Nights. So it’s Arabic, but it’s very, very Russian. I think it’s the power of music, which doesn’t have a border, I mean, just travels freely.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from the finale of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. The Kirov Orchestra, and on the podium, my guest today on “Mad About Music,” Valery Gergiev. This was his final selection on today's program. Now, as you look to the future, you not only have plans for new works, new places, new connections. But through all this, you’ve gone through an enormous history of your own in a very short period, a history that I suspect some people don’t accomplish in a lifetime. What have you learned about yourself that you didn’t know, say, five years ago? Because I think it’s really in the last five, ten years, Valery Gergiev has become Valery Gergiev. What have you learned about yourself during this period?
GERGIEV: I think I concentrate, although I concentrated maybe too late, but I concentrate more and more on what I want to learn about myself because it is impossible to act outside musical activities. I will be uninteresting to my own self. I learned that I very much depend on my family and my relatives. I learned also that I have to make things I planned for myself because I am not 25 years old, which means I have maybe much time, maybe not, but I really have to do it. That means I became even more serious about the plans I announced. I never pretend to take anybody’s place. I will never be President of Russia, I will never be Governor of Petersburg, I will never be a music director of other institution than the institution I really belong to, because I have no plans on leaving Mariinsky.
KAPLAN: You know as you were talking, I was trying to imagine another conductor who would need to confirm he had no plans to be the President of his country. In any case, you have been able to persuade your President, President Putin, to support arts in a very generous way. Tell us a little bit about the President of Russia when it comes to his interest in music, his knowledge of music, and your own relationship with him.
GERGIEV: I think Mr. Putin never claims he is a huge music-lover. But to our surprise, in a positive way, he finds three, four, or five times a year, he finds an opportunity to come and see some of the most important performances. He, of course, came to the first performance of War and Peace. He brought also Tony Blair together with him.
KAPLAN: Quite a change of pace from President Yeltsin, isn’t it?
GERGIEV: Well, Yeltsin will not stay in history as a famous attender of concerts or opera performances. But I spoke once or twice to Mr. Yeltsin about the importance of Mariinsky, and reconstruction of Mariinsky and building cultural center around it, in a way you did it here in Lincoln Center, for example. He didn’t disagree; but the difference is that being a younger man, Putin is pragmatic and he acts.
KAPLAN: Well, I want to thank you for appearing today on the show, and for this wide ranging conversation we’ve had. You may be totally loyal to your Mariinsky in St. Petersburg, but you’re also the Principal Guest Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in our city, New York and in that sense, if being a New Yorker is a state of mind, which I believe it really is, I have to conclude you're also a New Yorker.
GERGIEV: Even honorary New Yorker, I am officially honorary citizen of New York. Mayor Giuliani gave me like five, six years ago, which was very important to us because we loved New York from the very first visit. “We” means Mariinsky family. In 1992 we came, and then we kept coming every year or two to New York, to Carnegie Hall, to the Met, to Avery Fisher Hall, so it was wonderful ten years.
KAPLAN: Valery Gergiev, come back and see us again. This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music.”
“Mad About Music”
Gilbert Kaplan, Executive Producer
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Marcela Silva, Associate Producer
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