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Valery Abisalovich Gergiev (born Moscow, 2 May 1953) is a Russian conductor and opera company director of Ossetian birth. He is general director and artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, New York. Valery Gergiev is the artistic director of the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg.
Gergiev was born in Moscow but was brought up in North Ossetia in the Caucasus. He was not a child prodigy, but he began to play the piano at secondary school, before going on to study at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Leningrad from 1972 to 1977. His main conducting teacher was Ilya Musin who was one of the greatest conductors and teachers of conducting in Russian musical history.
In 1978, he became assistant conductor at the Kirov Opera, now the Mariinsky Opera. His first conducting appearance was with Sergei Prokofiev's War and Peace. He was chief conductor of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra from 1981 until 1985 - the year he made his first appearance in the United Kingdom, together with pianist Evgeny Kissin, and violinists Maxim Vengerov and Vadim Repin, at The Lichfield Festival.
In 1991 Gergiev conducted the Bavarian State Opera in a performance of Modest Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov in Munich. In the same year he made his American début, performing War and Peace with the San Francisco Opera. Since then he has conducted operas and concerts all over the world. Gergiev performs at many music festivals, including the White Nights festival in Saint Petersburg.
He became the chief conductor and artistic director of the Mariinsky in 1988, and overall director of the company, appointed by the Russian government, in 1996.
In 2003, he conducted at the Mariinsky Theatre the first complete cycle of Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung to be performed in Russia for over 90 years. He also conducted this production in Cardiff in 2006 at the Wales Millennium Centre, and in Costa Mesa, California in October 2006 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. This production was presented at the Lincoln Center in New York City in July 2007 where it was an enormous success.
In 2005 he became conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.
Gergiev has worked hard in England to bring music to a wide audience including children. He has often supported peace in the Caucasus during times of conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia. After the 2004 Beslan school massacre, Gergiev made an appeal on television for calm and against any revenge. He conducted concerts in tribute to the victims of the massacre.
In August 2008 Gergiev conducted the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre in a concert given in the ruined headquarters of the South Ossetia separatist government. There had been a short war between Georgia and Russia because South Ossetia, which had been part of Georgia, wanted to be independent. The Georgian government tried to force them not to break away, but the Russian government did not want Georgia to do this. The concert, which was broadcast live on Russian television, was in support of the Russian action. Some people in the West did not agree that Gergiev should have supported Russia in this way.
In 1999, Gergiev married the musician Natalya Debisova and they have three children.