Lars Vogt, born in Düren (Eifel) on September 8, 1970, has developed since competing in the famous Leeds Piano Competition (1990, when he won 2nd prize) into one of the currently most successful pianists in the German-speaking world.
Instruction from Ruth Weiss and Karl-Heinz Kämmerling launched him into a career that made rapid progress thanks to his collaboration with conductor Sir Simon Rattle. Recordings of Beethoven's First and Second Piano Concertos and the Schumann and Grieg concertos were made while Rattle was still with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. For Claudio Abbado, Rattle's predecessor in Berlin, Vogt performed Hindemith's Kammermusik No 2 for piano and 12 instruments with the Berlin Philharmonic. Since then, Lars Vogt has been playing solo recitals and concert performances with the world’s best orchestras.
As early as 1998, in Heimbach in the Eifel (near his birthplace), he founded the "Spannungen" chamber music festival. His predilection for quality over quantity in the scoring of his ensembles gained world recognition from live recordings of his festival concerts. In the fanciful settings of an Art Nouveau power station, still used for electricity generation outside festival periods, there are regular concerts with such guests as Isabelle Faust, Sharon Kam and Antje Weithaas, who have grown up with the festival.
Vogt has been pursuing his education project "Rhapsody in School" since 2005. Musician friends like Julia Fischer, Alban Gerhardt and Emmanuel Pahud engage in interactive presentations of their instrument at selected schools and make music with the students. This is usually the day before a concert. The pianist regards it as a scandal "that we cannot manage to fire up more children for classical music". We must not stifle interest in music "with too many circles of fifths", adds Lars Vogt. Essentially, his streetworker mentality is the outward manifestation of his demand for a new awareness of the classics. Dodging the issue or keeping one’s head down are not the answer; such reactions only mean one is not taken seriously. "Rhapsody in School" events are bookable – on the principle of 'musicians close up'. This campaign has definitively set the seal on the image of Lars Vogt as a hands-on virtuoso.
Lars Vogt is the first virtuoso whose young image is no longer that of the wunderkind or the nervous, unpredictable genius. It’s truer to say that the well-grounded, commonsense pianist – typified by Edwin Fischer, say, or Alfred Brendel – has been given a youthful relaunch. That is how he has stayed true to what we might call German honesty in music. No smoke and mirrors here. A pianistic cash payment. No bounced cheques.
On closer inspection, admittedly, the no-nonsense Vogt has always been someone who shows less German thoroughness than one imagines. "I have never played all Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, even privately. I’m missing the Hammerklavier and the Waldstein," says the now almost 40-year-old virtuoso. "It takes me some years to bring a great work to the level where I can satisfactorily play it in concert." That does not mean that he is a slow learner. He "put maybe ten hours" into Robert Schumann's D minor Sonata, which he performed in Heimbach with Christian Tetzlaff. On more careful examination, then, this seemingly easy-to-place pianist confounds all the stereotypes imposed upon him.
Without doubt, German repertoire is in constant demand from him. "I tend to stick close to the keys when playing Mozart." Intimately, in other words, without Romantic frills or grand theatrical gestures. Lars Vogt is more than ever inclined to the chamber-music dialogue. To a focus on small things – and on detail. Even to the point of silence.
With some 90 concerts a year, Lars Vogt is one of today's busiest multipliers in the piano segment. Apart from the USA, Japan has traditionally been his biggest overseas 'market'. Lars Vogt lives in London, together with the violist Rachel Roberts. And in Berlin, to see his daughter as often as possible. "Life has grown more manic," he says. "If you have no worries about your future, you should find some." He hasn’t lost his sense of humour, then.