His debut as a conductor at the theatre came on 12 January 1978 with Sergei Prokofiev's opera War and Peace. In 1988 Valery Gergiev was appointed Music Director of the Mariinsky Theatre, and in 1996 he became its Artistic and General Director (leading the orchestra and opera and ballet companies).
With the arrival of Valery Gergiev at the helm, it became a tradition to hold major thematic festivals marking various anniversaries of composers. In 1989 there was a festival marking one hundred and fifty years of Modest Musorgsky, in 1990 there was one commemorating one hundred and fifty years of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, in 1991 there was another marking one hundred years of Sergei Prokofiev, and in 1994 there was another marking one hundred and fifty years of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. These festivals saw performances not only of well-known scores but also of rarely performed pieces or works that had never been staged before at all. The tradition of anniversary festivals has continued in the 21st century with a celebration of one hundred years of Dmitry Shostakovich in 2006, another marking one hundred and seventy-five years of Pyotr Tchaikovsky in 2015, a third marking one hundred and twenty-five years of Sergei Prokofiev in 2016 and a fourth marking one hundred and seventy-five years of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 2019.
Through maestro Gergiev's efforts the Mariinsky Theatre has revived operas by Richard Wagner. In 1997 came Parsifal, which had not been performed in Russia for more than eighty years, in 1999 Lohengrin was revived, and by 2003 the grandiose operatic tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen had been staged in full. That was the first time following an interval of almost a century that the complete tetralogy was staged in Russia and the first production in Russia to be performed in the original German. The tetralogy has been performed on Mariinsky Theatre tours to great acclaim in Moscow as well as abroad — in the USA, South Korea, Japan, Great Britain and Spain. The theatre's repertoire also includes productions of Tristan und Isolde (2005) and Der fliegende Holländer (1998, 2008).
The Mariinsky Orchestra under Valery Gergiev has scaled new heights, assimilating not just opera and ballet scores but also an expansive symphony music repertoire — every symphony by Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Sibelius, Prokofiev and Shostakovich and works by Berlioz, Bruckner, Rimsky-Korsakov, Richard Strauss, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Dutilleux, Ustvolskaya, Shchedrin, Kancheli and other composers.
Under the direction of Valery Gergiev the Mariinsky Theatre has become a major theatre and concert complex, without par anywhere in the world. In 2006 the Concert Hall was opened, followed in 2013 by the theatre's second stage (the Mariinsky II), while since 1 January 2016 the Mariinsky Theatre has had a branch in Vladivostok — the Primorsky Stage and since 2017 in Vladikavkaz. Other projects of Valery Gergiev hosted by the Mariinsky Theatre include media broadcasting, on-line broadcasts of concerts and the establishment of a recording studio. 2009 saw the launch of the Mariinsky label, which to date has released more than thirty discs that have received great acclaim from the critics and the public throughout the world; these recordings include symphonies by Tchaikovsky and piano concerti by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, operas by Wagner, Massenet and Donizetti and an entire plethora of other works. Works by Verdi (Attila), Tchaikovsky (symphonies), Rimsky-Korsakov (The Tale of Tsar Saltan, The Golden Cockerel), Strauss (Die Frau ohne Schatten), Prokofiev (Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, The Gambler, Semyon Kotko), Shchedrin (The Lefthander) have been released on DVD.
Valery Gergiev's international activities are no less intensive and active. Having made debuts in 1991 at the Bayerishe Staatsoper (Musorgsky's Boris Godunov), in 1993 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin) and in 1994 at the Metropolitan Opera (Verdi’s Otello with Plácido Domingo in the title role), the maestro successfully continues to collaborate with the world’s great opera houses. He works with the World Orchestra for Peace (which he has directed since 1997 following the death of the ensemble’s founder Sir Georg Solti), the philharmonic orchestras of Berlin, Paris, Vienna, New York and Los Angeles, the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Cleveland, Boston and San Francisco, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Amsterdam) and many other ensembles. From 1995 to 2008 Valery Gergiev was Principal Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (of which he remains an honorary conductor to this day), and from 2007 to 2015 he was Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.
Since autumn 2015 the maestro has headed the Munich Philharmonic and since summer 2018 the Verbier Festival Orchestra.
Valery Gergiev is the founder and director of prestigious international festivals including the Stars of the White Nights (since 1993), the Moscow Easter Festival (since 2002), the Gergiev Festival in Rotterdam, the Mikkeli Music Festival (Finland) and the 360 Degrees festival in Munich. Since 2011 he has directed the Organizing Committee of the International Tchaikovsky Competition. Valery Gergiev focuses much of his attention on working with young musicians. One of his initiatives saw the revival of the All-Russian Choral Society; this includes the Children's Chorus of Russia, which has appeared at the Mariinsky II, the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia and at the closing ceremony of the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi. Since 2013 the maestro has directed the National Youth Orchestra of the USA and regularly appears with the youth orchestras of the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, the Verbier Festival and the Pacific Ocean Music Festival in Sapporo. Since 2015 the Mariinsky Theatre has run the Mariinsky NEXT annual festival, which features children’s and youth orchestras of St. Petersburg.
Valery Gergiev's musical and public activities have brought him three State Prizes of the Russian Federation (1993, 1998 and 2015), the titles of People's Artist of the Russian Federation (1996) and Hero of Labour (2013), the Order "For Merit to the Fatherland" III and IV classes (2003, 2008), the Order of Alexander Nevsky (2016), the Russian Federation Ministry of Defence Arts and Culture Award (2017) and prestigious state awards of Armenia, Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, France and Japan.