Valery Gergiev graduated from the Leningrad State Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatoire in symphony conducting under Professor Ilya Musin. At the age of 23 he won the Herbert von Karajan Conducting Competition in Berlin and, while still a student at the Conservatoire, was invited to join the Kirov Theatre (now the Mariinsky). At the age of 35, Gergiev was appointed Artistic Director of the Opera Company, and since 1996 he has been Artistic and General Director of the Mariinsky Theatre.

At the Mariinsky Theatre Gergiev has overseen the emergence of a plethora of world-class singers. Under his direction, the theatre's opera and ballet repertoire has expanded significantly. Today it encompasses a broad range of works from 18th to 20th century classical masterpieces to works by contemporary composers.

Highlights include performances of every opera by Prokofiev and Shostakovich at the Mariinsky Theatre, as well as the return of Wagner's operas Lohengrin, Parsifal, Der Fliegende Holländer, and Tristan und Isolde to the St. Petersburg stage. For the first time in the history of Russian theatre, Gergiev staged a production of Wagner's tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen in the original German (2003), the Western European premiere of which in Baden-Baden (2004) was feted by the German media as a truly historic event in world music. In June 2005 Der Ring des Nibelungen was performed to great acclaim in Moscow, and later in South Korea and Japan. In the 2006/2007 season, Wagner's tetralogy was performed in the USA, Great Britain, and Spain. In 2009 Gergiev oversaw an international production of the Berlioz operatic duologue Les Troyens, which resulted in a series of concert performances of this work by the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, Chorus and soloists in Russia, Israel, and the USA.

Gergiev has established and directs such international festivals as the Gergiev Festival (the Netherlands), the Moscow Easter Festival, and the Stars of the White Nights festival (St. Petersburg), which Austria's respected Festspiele Magazin listed as one of the world's ten greatest festivals.

Thanks to Gergiev's efforts, the Concert Hall was built in 2006, which has significantly broadened the repertoire possibilities of the company and the orchestra. This stunning theatre and concert complex is remarkable for its outstanding acoustics. At the Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre there are not only performances of operas and philharmonic programs, but also recordings of works for the Mariinsky label, established on Gergiev's initiative in 2009. The Mariinsky label has already released sixteen discs that have received great public and critical acclaim. In 2010 a recording of the opera The Nose, the label's first project, received a MIDEM Classical Award.

Gergiev devotes much attention to programs for children and young people and he has revived the practice of offering subscriptions for this audience group as well as gratis concerts for students. Gergiev is also well-known for his active role in the protection of humanistic ideals. He initiated the worldwide series of charitable concerts titled Beslan: Music for Life that were held in New York, Paris, London, Tokyo, Rome, and Moscow. In August 2008 he conducted a requiem concert in front of the ruined Government House of South Ossetia in Tskhinval.

He is a member of the Council for Culture and Art of the President of the Russian Federation and headed the Organisational Committee of the 14th International Tchaikovsky Competition. In February 2010 the Academic Council of the St. Petersburg State University elected him Dean of the Faculty of Arts. For his services to music and to society, Gergiev has been the recipient of numerous awards and prizes. These include the title of People's Artist of Russia (1996), the State Prize of Russia.

Gergiev appeared at PMF as Principal Conductor in 2004 and 2006, and starting in 2015 is serving as its 6th Artistic Director, making this his 5th season in this position.