You Cannot Start Without Me: Valery Gergiev, Maestro

An unabashed sales job for symphonic Russian legend Valery Gergiev produces some of the most beautiful music in any video as well as some insight into the current maestro of maestros

Yes the film is a sales job for Gergiev and the Russian Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.  But both of them deserve a sales job because they are tow of the best kept secrets in the world of classical music.  Gergiev is not only the benevolent dictator of the Mariinsky state sponsored music universe but he fills in his spare time as artistic director for the London Symphony Orchestra and also runs several music festivals in the arts capitols of the world.  He would appear to work the majority of the hours in every day and barely take time to eat or sleep.  He is one of the few people in the world who genuinely live their dreams every day.

Part of the secret to his success is his childhood in the bracing environment of the Caucasus Mountains of North Ossetia.  Ask any Russian military commander if the people there can be hard to deal with and the answer will be a whole-hearted yes.  Gergiev himself came from a military family and his parents were well-off, at least relatively speaking.  So although he was the child prodigy that many conductors were he had the money and the discipline from the start to pursue the life of an international music director; a life that has killed some before him.  For the most part he was taught by Professor Ilya Musin, one of the most famous and successful teachers of symphonic and operatic conductors in Russian musical history. His sister Larissa directs the Mariinsky’s singers’ academy.

This film is directed by Allan Miller who shared an Oscar nomination with Walter Scheuer for Best Documentary Feature for his “Small Wonders” in 1995.  Miller also won an Emmy in 1998 for Outstanding Classical Music-Dance Program for his “Itzhak Perlman: Fiddling for the Future.”  This expertise is embodied in the excellent production values of the film.  This includes an outstanding selection of music, much of it featuring uber-pianist Yefim Bronfman and vocal super-star Renée Fleming.  The music is recorded flawlessly and presented in ultra high fidelity.  The stunningly charming Anna Netrebko rounds out the bill in playing herself as the alpha-ballerina who is every girl’s dream.

The film consists of roughly three categories of information.  The first is the filmed and recorded operatic and symphonic pieces which are mesmerizing.  The second is the history of the conductor and the astounding power he holds in modern pro-capitalist Russia.  For example, he coyly admits he talks to Vladimir Putin now and then although rumors that he and Putin are godfathers to each other’s children have been reputed.

The third part is the inside look at the man himself although even after the film most viewers will be forced to admit they know little more about him after watching the film than they know about him before.  The most surprising aspect of the legend in his own time is that he is a fairly normal person (although imbued with the strength of a horse and the work ethic of Mother Teresa).

The cinematography of the film makes good use of the spectacular surroundings in which Gergiev performs.  The richness of the European and Russian venues that house the maestro’s operas and symphonies can not be described in words.  The film makes the viewer yearn to be there.  Perhaps that’s the point.

Directed by: Allan Miller

Featuring: Valery Gergiev, Yefim Bronfman and Renée Fleming

Release: November 2, 2009
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 86 minutes
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color