The Valery Gergiev primer

If this workaholic conductor's schedule makes your head spin, start here.

You Cannot Start Without Me (BelAir Classiques, 2010)
You cannot start without You Cannot Start Without Me, a documentary that delivers insight into Gergiev’s workaholic nature over the course of 2007. It pays special attention to the maestro on his home turf at the Mariinsky Theatre (which he is responsible for saving after the collapse of the Soviet Union), from rehearsing with opera diva Anna Netrebko to talking costumes with one of the company’s prima ballerinas as the white noise of a televised soccer game plays in the background. Most insightful into Gergiev’s character on- and offstage, however, are the scenes featuring this father of the new Russian classical scene as, simply, the father of his three children. “Maybe he will be artist, I hope,” he says of his older son, Abisol. “I want to be captain of an ocean liner,” reads Abisol’s subtitled response.

The Nose (Mariinsky, 2009)
Much touted this season is the Metropolitan Opera premiere on Friday 5 of Shostakovich’s absurdist, politically charged opera The Nose. Gergiev’s 2009 recording with the Mariinsky Orchestra on its new house label is as definitive an account of this brilliant, black-hearted satire as you’ll get. (His latest operatic recording for Mariinsky, Shchedrin’s The Enchanted Wanderer, is equally ravishing.)

Mahler: Symphony No. 4 (LSO Live, 2010)
“His Mahler is incredibly intense and vibrant,” says Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director. “He lives totally inside the music—in many ways a combination of a very Russian passion and sensibility, and a very deeply felt understanding of the way that Mahler pours out his soul through his music.” The world suffers no lack of Mahler cycles, but it’s easy to ignore the others when listening to this new installment in Gergiev’s charismatic, compelling survey. The London Symphony Orchestra matches Mahler’s larger-than-life score with a larger-than-life sound. Carnegie Hall—where Gergiev and the Mariinsky play Berlioz’s Les Troyens on Tuesday 9 and Wednesday 10—will boast its own Gergiev-led Mahler cycle in October. “[Mahler’s] is some of the most personally transparent music ever written,” Gillinson adds. “And Valery completely lives this out in his interpretations.”

Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme; Prokofiev: Sinfonia Concertante (Virgin Classics, 2010)
Although Gergiev’s creative fingerprints cover a variety of recordings this year—par for the course—cellist and soloist Gautier Capuon professes that the maestro maintains “200 percent” dedication to the task at hand. Here, it’s Capuon’s riveting performance of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, from a live concert with Gergiev and the Mariinsky, alongside Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante. “He guided me with his inspiration and magical touch and helped me to find the right words to perform those works,” the French cellist says. “He trusted me, and I hope to meet him onstage very soon again.”

The Russian Stravinsky (New York Philharmonic, 2010)
Capuon isn’t the only soloist jonesing for more stage time with Gergiev, who brings with him a host of guest artists for his three-week residency at the New York Philharmonic April 21--May 8. The slate includes pianist Denis Matsuev (whose recording of Rachmaninoff’s virtuosic Piano Concerto No. 3 is now available on Mariinsky) and mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier. It’s here, conducting the works of his compatriots, that Gergiev is truly in his element. “He has such a fresh and vital take on this music, and he’s so passionately committed to presenting it in its true sense,” says the Phil’s music director Alan Gilbert. ”Everything he does is based on drama, and so much of Stravinsky’s music needs to be treated that way.”

See more in Classical