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Remembering Lars Vogt

Lars Vogt

‘With Lars Vogt, there was a collective trust and spirit of generosity between orchestra and maestro’

Royal Northern Sinfonia’s Principal Oboe Michael O’Donnell pays tribute to the orchestra’s much loved former music director:

In January 2014, Lars Vogt stepped on to the stage at Sage Gateshead to make his UK conducting debut with Royal Northern Sinfonia. Lars had an endearing and quiet confidence, even when trying something new. I have witnessed him speaking at least nine foreign languages and presumed he was fluent on the assurance of the delivery, later discovering he only knew a few words. But fluency in the language of music was something Lars possessed in captivating abundance. And it turned out he could express this just as well with a baton in his hand: just a few weeks after the final chords of Beethoven’s 4th Symphony had finished resonating around the hall, it was announced Lars was to become our next music director.

Starting his tenure in September 2015, Lars spoke of the “instant connection” he felt with the orchestra. This connection quickly and organically grew into something I have never known between an orchestra and music director: a collective trust and spirit of generosity between orchestra and maestro, borne not just of admiration for his talents and the music we were making, but also a love for his unfailing kindness and warmth.

To play a Beethoven symphony the way Lars Vogt played a Beethoven sonata was electrifying. In the early days of his conducting career, Lars said it made him feel as if he were flying. Our new partnership saw us flying around the world together, touring internationally and travelling throughout the local region. Between our busy concert schedule, we recorded the complete Brahms and Beethoven concerti, directed and played by Lars, to critical acclaim. The Sunday Times said of our recording of Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto, “I can’t recall a finer account”.

Lars’s humanity was tantamount to his talent, touching lives wherever he went. While I was collecting a takeaway curry last month, the owner ran over, recognising me from a meal I had once shared there with Lars – who dined there a little too regularly if I’m honest! He poured us both a drink and spoke of his admiration for the man and musician for 20 minutes. Audiences here adored him like no other artist I have shared a stage with. This morning on BBC Radio 3 the presenter read a message from a local audience member, remembering Lars’s customary wink to concertgoers as he left the stage and how she genuinely felt this was personally for her.

As Lars leaves all our stages for the last time, I want to express on behalf of everyone at RNS and Sage Gateshead how much we treasure our generous share of his time in this world. We loved him dearly.

First published (online) in The Guardian, Tuesday 6 September 2022