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Culture news, 01.12.2006 15:43

Opening Gala at Maryinsky Hall, St Petersburg

Mariinsky Not content with conducting about 30 performances a week on four continents, and running the world’s top opera and ballet company, Valery Gergiev can now add another jaw-dropping feat to his CV. In just three years he has managed to get a superb new concert hall designed, built and paid for, just down the road from his beloved Maryinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.


It’s a heartwarming story because, as Gergiev poetically puts it, the hall has risen “like a firebird from the ashes of our legendary past”. In 2003 a big fire consumed the Maryinsky’s famous old scenery warehouse. Dozens of historic sets and costumes went up in flames. Rather than mourning their loss, however, Gergiev resolved that a new, 1,100-seat concert hall should be built inside the three remaining walls, and the French architect Xavier Fabre was commissioned to design it.

The result — which opened on Wednesday with a gala attended by a Who’s Who of New Russia, from Putin downwards — cost a cool £30 million, almost all donated privately, for Gergiev is as good at networking as he is at conducting. But it’s worth it. The three original walls are now complemented by a huge glass fourth, so all the glittering foyers look out over the throng on Decembrists’ Street. And this happy marriage of old and new is carried through inside the auditorium. Cream wooden walls and red velvet seats hint at Imperial tradition. But the huge, adaptable floor space, steeply raked seating and superbly crystalline acoustics (supervised by the great Yasuhisa Toyota, who also did Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles) ensure that the hall is as useful for educational projects — another part of Gergiev’s dream — as it is for the Mahler and Beethoven symphonic cycles he will conduct there next year.

A glittering cast inaugurated the venue. Maxim Vengerov, Vadim Repin and Lang Lang each whizzed through a concerto movement, and some of the Maryinsky’s vast roster of principal singers did their party pieces. But fittingly it was the Maryinsky Orchestra that stole the show, especially with a glitteringly virtuosic account of the finale to Stravinsky’s Firebird. Little wonder, with a band like this to show off, that Gergiev wanted a concert hall appended to his opera house.

Oh, and by the way, this was the same Valery Gergiev who began conducting Wagner’s Ring in Cardiff last night, just 24 hours later. Or have the Russians perfected the art of cloning? You have to wonder.

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(c) 2000