Prokofiev - The Symphonies
Russian around with the tireless Valery Gergiev
This article is from 2008.
In one of the most exciting orchestral weekends hosted by the Usher Hall, the London Symphony Orchestra appears with its principal conductor, Valery Gergiev, performing all of Prokofiev’s seven symphonies plus the two violin concertos with soloist Leonidas Kavakos. As the venue’s redevelopment programme is still in progress, audiences are advised to allow more time than usual to find your seat. The real problem may be getting people to vacate them, as this particularly potent combination of music and musicians is highly likely to leave audiences demanding more.
A long-time champion of the music of Prokofiev – and, indeed, fellow Russian Shostakovich – Gergiev is at his ‘absolute best’ with these two composers, according to EIF director Jonathan Mills. ‘But it is more than just as a conductor,’ he says. ‘He is a conductor and a proselytizer in the best sense.’
Born in Moscow in 1953, Gergiev spent the formative years of his conducting career in Russia. He conducted many of the main orchestras of the former Soviet Union, especially the Armenian State Orchestra, leading to his appointment as chief conductor at the Kirov Opera in 1988 where he has been artistic director and principal conductor since 1996 when he was invited by the Russian government to take up the post. ‘He’d had the choice to cut and run or make a stance,’ says Mills. ‘It was at a time when Russia was in difficult social and economic circumstances and Gergiev was in charge of one of its great institutions, the Kirov and Mariinsky Theatre. He was being sounded out for many glittering jobs in the west, but he stayed in Russia. I think that he showed incredible guts and courage for standing up for the people and supporting their own culture, and he should be praised for it. “We may not have bread,” he would say, “but we can sing!”’
Although there are a number of enticing one-off concerts, the residencies that underpin them are vital to the Festival’s orchestral programming. ‘It gives people the opportunity to hear more than just one idea from an orchestra,’ says Mills. ‘And Gergiev certainly brings a special quality to this repertoire.’
Usher Hall, 473 2000, 15–17 Aug, 8pm, from £10.