Much-loved pianist and conductor Lars Vogt dies after cancer diagnosis, aged 51

6 September 2022, 12:30

Much-loved German pianist and conductor Lars Vogt has died, aged 51
Much-loved German pianist and conductor Lars Vogt has died, aged 51. Picture: Getty

By Siena Linton

The German musician died at home surrounded by family, after being diagnosed with cancer in early 2021.

The German pianist and conductor Lars Vogt has died aged 51, on the afternoon of Monday 5 September 2022, his management have confirmed. Vogt was diagnosed with cancer in early 2021, after doctors found tumours on his throat and liver.

In an interview with VAN Magazine in May 2021, just months after his diagnosis, Vogt recalled that his doctors couldn’t give him a prognosis, but told him, “At the end of the day, the tumour will limit your life.”

Vogt was born in Düren, Germany, in 1970, and won his first great public success in 1990, when he won second prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition.

Since then, Vogt’s illustrious career has taken him to concert halls across the globe, sharing the stage with some of the world’s greatest orchestras.

A keen chamber musician and performer, Vogt founded his own chamber festival, ‘Spannungen’ in June 1998. Vogt remained its artistic director since founding the festival 24 years ago, curating the concert series which is held annually in a former hydroelectric power station in Heimbach, near Cologne.

As a pianist, Vogt has appeared on stage with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Vienna, London and New York Philharmonic orchestras, and London, Chicago and Boston Symphony orchestras.

Vogt had a particularly close relationship to the Berlin Philharmonic, having been appointed the orchestra’s first ever pianist in residence for the 2003/04 season.

Lars Vogt performed with some of the world's greatest orchestras
Lars Vogt performed with some of the world's greatest orchestras. Picture: Getty

A decade later, in May 2014, Lars Vogt was announced by the Royal Northern Sinfonia, Classic FM’s Orchestra in North-East England, as its next music director, taking effect in September 2015. After a successful five-year tenure, Vogt stayed on as principal artistic partner from 2020 until his death in 2022.

Vogt had recently taken up the mantle as music director of the Orchestre de chambre de Paris beginning in the 2020/21 season. The contract was initially planned to last three years, but the orchestra announced an extension to Vogt’s term in December 2021 which would see him remain in the role until June 2025.

Vogt was a prolific recording artist, releasing highly acclaimed recordings for EMI, Avi Music and Ondine, and winning the prestigious Opus Klassik award in 2021. He was also nominated for a Grammy Award in 2016 in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category for his recording of Brahms’ piano trios alongside violinist Christian Tetzlaff and cellist Tanja Tetzlaff.

Outside of his performing and recording career, Vogt was a strong advocate for accessible music education, establishing an educational programme called ‘Rhapsody in School’ which entered the curricula in Germany and Austria, aiming to forge connections between young musicians and their world-class counterparts.

Beethoven "Appassionata", Lars Vogt

Vogt spoke openly about his diagnosis and experience living with cancer, saying that receiving the news had given him a new appreciation for the ordinary elements of life. He told VAN magazine: “Going to the supermarket with my wife, the kids running around and goofing off, sitting at the piano and learning a new Brahms piece.”

He managed to keep playing through his chemotherapy, saying that there was an upright piano in the cancer ward where he received treatment, and a grand piano in the palliative ward.

Speaking to Zsolt Bognar on an episode of Living the Classical Life, Vogt says he told his doctors, “I love playing the piano but I prefer to be alive”.

Musicians have been paying their respects to Vogt on Twitter, including cellist Steven Isserlis, who wrote: “Beyond sad that we have lost our beloved Lars Vogt. It is impossible to imagine a more warm-hearted, life-loving being - he will leave a vast hole in the lives of all his friends and colleagues, not to mention his family.”

Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani also tweeted: “I learnt about 20 minutes before I was to go on stage tonight that my friend Lars Vogt had ... gone to meet his maker. Godspeed, my dear Lars. If I manage to lead a good life as you did, we’ll eventually play that C.P.E. Bach double concerto to the composer himself”.

Fellow pianist, Víkingur Ólaffson, shared a poignant text Vogt had sent him, just before Ólaffson went on stage to perform, two weeks prior to Vogt’s death. The message reads: “Enjoy the music. Everything is so fragile. It’s not a given that we can make that music”.

Vogt leaves behind his wife, violinist Anna Reszniak, and their three children.