The Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, which presents the award, will honor Gergiev at a ceremony on June 12. He will receive a cash prize of 50,000 euros ($60,000).
Gergiev's "highly emotional interpretations of Italian, German, and above all, Russian composers have set new standards in the concert and opera halls," the Festspielhaus said in a statement.
Born in Moscow in 1953, Gergiev grew up in Ossetia and studied at the Leningrad Conservatory. He won the Karajan Conducting Competition in 1976 and joined the staff of the Kirov Theatre a year later. After four years as principal guest conductor of the State Symphony Orchestra of Armenia, he was named artistic director of the Kirov Opera in 1988; in 1996 he was promoted to artistic and general directorship of the entire theater, now called the Mariinsky.
He is credited with helping the venerable theater survive the collapse of the Soviet Union, and, in the years since, expanding its repertoire and its collaborations with Western opera houses.
Gergiev also holds the positions of principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera and music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, and also runs the Stars of the White Nights festival in St. Petersburg, the Moscow Easter Festival, the Gergiev Festival Rotterdam, and the Mikkeli International Festival in Finland. Starting in 2007, he will be principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.
He is also the winner of the 2006 Polar Music Prize, a $125,000 prize presented by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
Previous winners of the Karajan Prize include pianist Evgeny Kissin and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.