German pianist and conductor Lars Vogt, who died of cancer aged 51, rose to prominence after winning second prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1990. To a repertoire including Bach , Mozart and Beethoven, but centered mainly on romantic composers such as BrahmsSchumann, Grieg, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, he brought exceptional sensitivity and lyricism, the melancholy and restrained emotional register of Brahms’ last pieces suiting him particularly well.
Although ceding first prize to Artur Pizarro in Leeds, Vogt impressed with his witty, witty Haydn and a retelling of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition that combined subtlety and grandeur. In the concerto finale, his maturity representation of the Schumann announced a player of remarkable eloquence and unaffected charisma.
He went on to perform with many leading conductors and orchestras around the world. A particularly prestigious appointment was that of the very first pianist in residence at the Berlin Philharmonic for the 2003-04 season.
He was also a keen partner in chamber music, often teaming up with musicians such as Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff, Truls Mørk, Sabine Meyer and Sarah Chang, and singers such as Thomas Quasthoff, Ian Bostridge and Julian Pregardien.
In 1998 he co-founded with his first wife, Russian composer Tatiana Komarova, his own chamber music festival, Spannungen (“Excitements”), located in a former art nouveau hydroelectric power station in the village of Heimbach near Cologne. Many outstanding recordings emanated from performances there, and he remained artistic director until his death.
Simon Rattle, who conducted Schumann’s concerto in Leeds and his first two recordings (Schumann/Grieg and Beethoven’s first concerto), remains his mentor, prophesying at the time: “In 10 years you will be a conductor. You have a conductor’s brain. And indeed Vogt has taken his place regularly on the podium over time, without letting go of the one on the keyboard.
He was appointed Music Director of the Royal Northern Sinfonia from 2015 for a five-year term, becoming Principal Artistic Partner from 2020. From the 2020-21 season he was also Music Director of the Orchestra of Chambre de Paris – the first French orchestra to claim full gender equality. This contract, initially for three years, was recently extended until June 2025.
Early in his career he was an EMI recording artist, making records with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Claudio Abbado and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Rattle. Recently, he recorded for the Finnish label Ondine: the complete keyboard concertos of Beethoven and Brahms, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, played with verve and careful articulation but with subtle and unexpected touches, and a disc of works by Janáček which won him the Opus Klassik prize. for the best solo piano album of the year in 2021.
Among the contemporary composers whose works he premiered are Thomas Larcher, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Kryštof Mařatka and Volker David Kirchner.
Born in Düren, North Rhine-Westphalia, he was the youngest of three children of an engineer (who as a young man had funded his education by playing professional football for his local team) and his wife. Lars learned the piano from the age of six and studied at today’s Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover. His teacher was the distinguished pedagogue Karl-Heinz Kämmerling, whose students also included Igor Levit and Alice Sara Ott. After Kämmerling’s death in 2012, Vogt succeeded him as piano teacher at the Hochschule.
He made the first of 14 BBC Proms appearances in 1992, performing Grieg’s Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Mark Elder. He then played with all the great British orchestras, the Gewandhaus Leipzig, royal concert hall, Vienna Philharmonic and much more. Concerned about the state of music education, he created a program in Germany called Rhapsody in School, in which he and other professional musicians visited schools to interact with young people, the aim being to inspire and forge links.
After his marriage to Komarova ended, he married the Polish violinist Anna Reszniak. Suffering from throat and liver cancer last year, he continued to play throughout his treatment (he was lucky enough to have an upright piano in the cancer ward and a grand piano in palliative care service). He spoke movingly in an interview about his family and the composers who most comforted him in his condition: Brahms, Mozart and Bach – “the three composers who seem to me most important now”.
Of Brahms, he said that what spoke to him most deeply at that time was that the composer, who had no children of his own, was nevertheless able to enter the world of childhood with the “gently fragile” major chords that would follow a passage of darker colors.
“The narrator says,” he continued, “‘You’ve got a lot of pain and sadness ahead of you – but for now, just go to sleep,’ and it amounts to a lullaby. It’s an adjustment of perspective – not a complete identification with childhood, but from an adult point of view – of a person who has seen a lot.
Vogt is survived by Anna and three children.