When Valery Gergiev became Principal Conductor in 1995 he and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra decided to hold an ambitious multi-day musical event. One year later, they presented the Rotterdam Philharmonic Gergiev Festival.
The early years
What began in 1996 as a themed concert series grew into a large-scale music festival. The 2001 edition was a major milestone, because it adopted a multi-disciplinary format to spotlight Shostakovich and his War Symphonies. In 2003 the Festival chose a ‘difficult composer’ in Prokofiev, but thanks to the wide range of programmes it managed to attract a record number of visitors. Further successes were achieved in the festival featuring Tchaikovsky (2004) and the edition entitled Fin-de-siècle Icons (2005) with music including works by Wagner and Strauss.
The second decade
In 2006 the Festival entered its second decade, with Freedom as its motto. There was now no focus on a particular composer or musical period, but a theme that gives every opportunity to place the music in a wider context. This course continued with Night of Love, Heaven and Earth, Eternal Youth and a trio of festivals about Rotterdam: Resurrection (2010), Sea & the City (2011) and Sea & You (2012). In 2013 the festival celebrated Valery Gergiev’s 25-year connection with the city and in 2014 the theme was The First World War.
Gergiev Festival new style
In 2014 the festival opted for a new format concentrated into a long weekend. Once again the principal actors (Valery Gergiev and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra) and their unique chemistry took centre stage. This new format was very well received by the audiences. The 2015 (Rachmaninov), 2016 (Prokofiev) and 2017 (The Russian Avant-Garde) festivals were very well attended; the highlights included the piano marathons, children’s concerts and the collaboration with the Symphony Orchestra of Codarts & the Royal Conservatoire.
Festival 2021: St Petersburg
2021 is a jubilee year: this is the 25th edition of the Gergiev Festival, with St Petersburg as the theme. Although former principal conductor Gergiev still calls the city of Rotterdam ‘my second home’, his first home is of course the city of the tsars, of Peter the Great and of the Mariinsky Theatre. For many centuries St Petersburg has been the cultural capital of Russia and has a very eventful history. This is expressed in the spectacular programmes featured in this festival: from the monumental Leningrad symphony of Shostakovich, via Tchaikovsky’s archetypal Russian opera Eugene Onegin to the sensational Dutch première of a work by Raskatov about revolutionary Russia.