Over the past two evenings Valery Gergiev treated us to some very special Mariinsky magic at the Palais des Beaux Arts. Yesterday, 27th January, we heard a sublime rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet overture, followed by Borodin’s 2nd Symphony, and rounded off with Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite, Sheherazade. Tonight, it was a beautiful piece of Mussorgsky, ‘Dawn on the Moscow River’, that I had never heard, followed by Shostakovich’s First Symphony and then Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony. It was a wonderful display of the riches of Russian composition and of the mastery of the Mariinsky orchestra but also of the genius of Gergiev. Watching him conduct is a real spectator sport, with his big hands and fluttering fingers. It is, a friend said, as though each finger controlled a different section of the orchestra. He has a number of tics. One is to pull closed the lapels of his jacket, as though it has suddenly got cold in the concert hall. Another is a hangover from the time when he had constantly to claw back his then long hair. The hair has gone, but Gergiev still makes the same clawback motion after periods of energetic conducting. Listening to the music, one can identify similar tics – Tchaikovsky’s distinctive strings, for example, but in the Mussorgsky piece I could hear exactly the same musical depiction of Moscow’s church bells as he was later to use to such brilliant effect in Boris Godunov.