© The Financial Times Ltd 2013 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
March 5, 2010 11:29 pm
You Cannot Start Without Me: Valery Gergiev, Maestro
A film by Allan Miller
If you want a close-up of the world’s busiest and most instinctive conductor, this DVD is a useful start. Allan Miller’s 90-minute film follows Gergiev from St Petersburg to London and New York, with attractively landscaped detours to Moscow and his native Caucasus. The maestro of the Mariinsky Theatre talks extensively – backstage, in rehearsal, direct to camera – as do many associates, including members of the London Symphony Orchestra (of which he is principal conductor) and his hard-nosed American manager Doug Sheldon.
Gergiev, 56, comes across as a tireless multi-tasker – insanely focused, patriotic, politically savvy and more in love with music than with himself or any individual or group. His only “tangible” love seems to be an institution, the Mariinsky, whose fate he has guided single-handedly for more than 20 years. The film is clearly designed for Gergiev’s international fan club.
No searching questions are asked (for example, about Gergiev’s impulsive intervention in the Russia-Georgia conflict); no independent voices are consulted. His family, his infamously late arrivals for performance, his unidiomatic feeling for large tranches of non-Russian repertoire – all are kept under wraps. Among the best chapters are the one on childhood and apprenticeship (by his late teens Gergiev was playing vast orchestral scores on the piano), another showing an unexpectedly intimate backstage encounter with Anna Netrebko, and a sequence in his Mariinsky office in which he watches football on TV while listening to a complaint from prima ballerina Uliana Lopatkina.
Of the technical challenges posed by Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which provides a thread for the entire DVD, he tells the LSO that “it’s not technical writing, it’s a piece of theatre. So I please ask you always to find what is theatrical rather than purely instrumental” – an insight into how he uses his Mariinsky training to motivate western colleagues. Western orchestras may be technically proficient, he says, but that doesn’t mean their playing is interesting: the word “safe” drops from his lips as if it’s the most damning in the vocabulary.
Anyone who has seen Gergiev in action knows his performances teeter on the edge (and occasionally fall off): that’s why we admire him. What would have been useful from a film with this degree of access to its subject is some insight into the nature of his charisma and what makes him tick. But the price of access was probably an agreement not to get too close.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.