Valery Gergiev was born in Moscow in 1953. He studied orchestral conducting at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatoire in Leningrad under Ilya Musin and won the Herbert von Karajan Competition in Berlin whilst still a student. Immediately after graduating he was appointed assistant conductor at the Kirov Theatre, and then became principal conductor of the Armenian State Orchestra.
Gergiev returned to the Kirov in 1988, where he was appointed director and principal conductor. Under his inspirational leadership this company regained its original name and grandeur. Re-christened the Mariinsky Theatre, it once again became the temple of Russian opera and ballet culture.
Gergiev made his debut in the Netherlands on 31 October 1987. From 1988 onwards he was a regular guest conductor with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, where he became principal conductor in 1995. Together with the orchestra he initiated the Rotterdam Philharmonic Gergiev Festival, which was staged for the first time in 1996. Valery Gergiev has conducted all the world’s great symphony orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Berliner Philharmoniker. From 2007 to 2015 he was principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. During the tenth Gergiev Festival (2005) Valery Gergiev was made a Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion. He was awarded the Rotterdam Promotion Prize 2006 a year later.
Gergiev ended his time as principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in May 2008. At his departure mayor Ivo Opstelten presented him with the Johan van Oldebarneveldt Medal, the city of Rotterdam’s highest award, and he was appointed honorary conductor by the orchestra.