Valery Gergiev emerged in the 1980s as one of the most exciting new conductors, particularly of opera and ballet, and has maintained and enhanced his reputation ever since. He is also known for the rather gruff, unshaven appearance he cultivates. Born in Moscow to Ossetian parents, he showed tremendous musical talent in early childhood. Deciding while still in his teens that he wanted to become a conductor, Gergiev entered the conducting class of Ilya Musin at the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Conservatory. In 1975 and still a student, he won the All Union Conductors' Competition in Moscow in 1975. The following year, Gergiev won the Herbert von Karajan Conductors' Competition in Berlin. In 1977, the 24-year-old Gergiev was appointed assistant conductor at the Kirov Opera under Yuri Temirkanov. He made his debut the next year, conducting Prokofiev's immense opera War and Peace. This and other exciting opera performances marked the arrival of an extraordinary conductor. In 1981, Gergiev became director of the Armenian State Orchestra, conducting widely throughout the Soviet Union. He was appointed music director of the Kirov in 1988, when Temirkanov left to take over the Leningrad Philharmonic. Starting his tenure at the Kirov with immense energy and enthusiasm, Gergiev developed the company's orchestra to the point that it rivaled the famed Philharmonic. As director of the Mariinsky Theater (the historic home of the Kirov Opera and Ballet companies), he organized a successful annual Stars of the White Nights festival in St. Petersburg.
Gergiev has traveled widely, taking the Kirov companies all over the world. He has conducted several Kirov productions, including Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris and Borodin's Prince Igor at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His subsequent engagements also included a production of Boris Godunov at the Met.Gergiev has led major opera companies and symphony orchestras around the world.
Principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera from 1997 to 2008, Gergiev was also principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra until August, 2008. He has been in charge of numerous festivals, including the Rotterdam Philharmonic/Gergiev Festival, the Mikkeli International Festival in Finland, the Peace to the Caucasus Festival, and the Red Sea International Music Festival in Eilat, Israel. Gergiev's many CD and video recordings include the classical Russian opera repertoire; symphonic works by Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, and Borodin; as well as the complete Prokofiev piano concertos. In addition to these recordings, he has become an acclaimed interpreter of Western symphonic fare, notably in his cycle of Mahler symphonies for LSO Live. The Mariinsky label, founded in 2009, which features Gergiev 's performances with the theatre orchestra, includes operas from both the Russian and traditional repertoires.