The elite in Eilat

Renowned conductor Valery Gergiev commands the podium at the Red Sea Classical Music Festival.

Concert 311 (photo credit: Alexander Shapunov)
Concert 311
(photo credit: Alexander Shapunov)
Valery Gergiev, one of the leading conductors of our time, returns to our shores with his Petersburg Mariinsky Theater music forces for the Red Sea Classical Music Festival, which takes place in Eilat between January 5 – 7.
This year’s program features Berlioz’s Requiem; Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel Op. 37, an opera in five acts (in concert performance); and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. The festival also include a rich chamber program, performed by Japanese and Israeli musicians, and The Seasons – a choreographic poem for piano and four dancers by Tchaikovsky, choreographed by Vera Arbuzova.
What brings the busy conductor to Eilat time and again? “I am fully involved in four or five festivals. For me, they are like my children whom I helped give birth to and, as such, I cannot abandon or even neglect them,” he says. “I was in Eilat for the first time many years ago, and I find it a very interesting place, where so many different countries come together.”
Gergiev recalls that the initial idea of the festival included peacepromoting activities: “We wanted to share the festival with Aqaba, but it did not work out over the years, so we decided to concentrate on the music aspect of the event. I would have loved it to happen, but I cannot spend a lot of time on something that is not my professional work. Promoting peace would be great, but no music event, I adamantly believe, should depend on the ever-changing political situation, eventually enslaving itself. Yet this lack of political agenda does not diminish the importance of the festival. Every musician is able to try to make this world a better place. I believe that if you have such a powerful tool as Mariinsky in your hands, your chances are much greater. Every year we perform three huge musical pieces in Eilat during the three days of the festival, which would have taken other musical bodies a few months to prepare. By this alone, I believe, we already make a difference. In Petersburg, with its intensive musical life, we are able to do much, much more. We try to bring a fresh approach to the programming, to present rarely performed pieces, to invite interesting stage directors, and it works. Our performances are sold out because our devoted audiences rely on us. They know that ours is quality work.”
Regarding Eilat, Gergiev admits that it not only his parental sentiment that brings him back to Israel’s southernmost city: “Traditionally, I spend New Year’s Eve in snowy Petersburg. For me and for the entire ensemble, coming to sunny Eilat for a few days is an important and refreshing change. And, of course, the local audience, which is very responsive and very good. So although there’s no luxury venue in which to perform in Eilat, it is always worthwhile coming here. I am sure that every orchestra and chorus member shares this feeling. That said, and I have repeated it more than once, building a new concert hall in Eilat is important. It would contribute a lot to the cultural life of the city and the entire country.”
The conductor says it is easy to trace the idea of the festival programming from its inception. “The program has to be festive, but festivity has nothing much to do with laughing, dancing and screaming. What we offer are powerful pieces that promise listeners an enriching and emotional journey. In the end, the public feels grateful, first and foremost to the composer. This year we are performing Berlioz’s Requiem, and we performed Verdi’s Requiem in the past. I believe that pieces like the German Requiem by Brahms will also be performed here. I have all these and other similar pieces in my repertoire. We bring operas in concert performance – Russian, but also French. Last year, it was Les Trojans by Berlioz, which is extremely difficult for performance but, still, Mariinsky can do it. And this year it will be The Fiery Angel by Prokofiev, one of the most unusual operas of the 20th century,” he says.
Some musicians claim that the man is a magician, that he holds a magic wand and not a baton in his hand, that he comes to the podium and something supernatural happens. What does the maestro think about that?
”I do not believe in magic and, above all, I do not waste my time on myself. First and foremost, I concentrate on the music of the composer. You have to remove yourself from the picture – and that is where true magic begins.”
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