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photo: Alberto Venzago photo: Alberto Venzago

The cultural ambassador

Valery Gergiev is an artist in residence 2016/17, presenting Prokofiev as a symphonist and conducting the OPL for the first time.

«Sensitivity and intensity, boundless passion and wistful tenderness, fury and irony, an almost feminine gentleness and ruthless brutality are intermingled in his thoroughly idiosyncratic style, the immediacy of whose expression captivates again and again.» Words used to describe Sergey Prokofiev – for Valery Gergiev, quite simply «the greatest Russian composer».

When the above statement appeared in 1926 in a book by Leonid Sabaneyev and Oskar von Riesemann, Prokofiev had just turned 35 and his name had already been on everyone’s lips for quite some time (eleven years previously, Sabaneyev had savaged his Scythian Suite, the performance of which had been cancelled at the last minute – a painful moment for the eminent critic and a comical triumph for the unruly young composer).

In 2016, when Prokofiev would have been 125, Gergiev’s favourite Russian composer is even more present than usual in the conductor’s busy concert calendar. And given his impressive list of recordings and performances, that is saying something.

And Luxembourg audiences will also benefit from that presence in 2016/17: the Second and Sixth Symphonies are included for the first time in the Philharmonie’s programme, along with the First and Third Symphonies, the first two piano concertos, with Denis Matsuev as soloist, and a suite from the Ballet Cinderella. Make a note: one of the three Mariinsky guest concerts in November 2016 is devoted entirely to the mission of arousing the interest of Luxembourg school pupils in orchestral music – with the classic Peter and the Wolf.

In the second phase of his residency, in February 2017 with the Münchner Philharmoniker and the soloist Daniil Trifonov, Gergiev explores features shared by the French and Russian repertoires. He particularly cherishes the centuries-old cultural links between Russia and Europe – from the Debussy performances of Rachmaninov to the Italian architects who helped to shape St Petersburg to his own efforts on behalf of Mahler and of Wagner’s Ring in Russia: «I hope that people will learn history a little bit better. All people – I talk about Europeans, Americans, Russians, Asians – have to learn history. It seems that politicians know very little about history. We also have to spend more time just to make sure we know history very well, it’s important.»

Gergiev’s role as a passionate ambassador between cultures has a particular resonance in Luxembourg: he is, after all, linked with the Grand Duchy as an honorary consul. His twentieth appearance at the Philharmonie will undoubtedly contribute once more to cultural transfer – to bring his residency to a close in May 2017, Valery Gergiev conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg for the first time.