Lars Vogt became Music Director of Royal Northern Sinfonia in September 2015, taking over from the much admired Thomas Zehetmair, who led the RNS from 2002 until 2014. We had the great fortune of being able to question Lars about his new post and his eventful year
You’ve had quite a busy year – performing in the First Night of the Proms, recording Bach’s Goldberg variations, and taking up your new job at Royal Northern Sinfonia.
What attracted you to the position with Royal Northern Sinfonia?
The incredible artistic dynamic of this amazing group paired with the warmth of a real musical family. I feel really lucky.
You’ve written very warmly on your website about how special the Leeds International Piano Competition was for you – did your experiences there have any effect on your decision to come to the North East?
Well, it´s somehow funny how life changing things seem to happen for me in the North of England. So I guess I do feel close to that part of the world for very personal reasons.
You’ve also talked about similarities between the North East and your home in the Rhineland (and about Beethoven’s Rhineland character too) – how do you see that in terms of music – the way you play and conduct, and the response you get from audiences?
It´s a particular emotional immediacy that I love. And in Beethoven´s case the ability to change mood extremely abrubtly. Again, maybe a similarity between Rhineland and North East England? The audiences are just very open, but these days I find anyway a certain closeness of all audiences in the world for classical music; people that don´t swim with media main stream of our crazy world and have the openness to listen to music for two hours without further distraction. That´s the people that still come to concerts and enjoy the incredible messages of the great composers from the past and present.
Everyone here is incredibly proud of Royal Northern Sinfonia, and of Sage Gateshead. As they celebrate 10 years of Sage Gateshead, how do you see their role in the region, now and in the future?
Sage Gateshead and Royal Northern Sinfonia have quite rightly a central role in the culture of our region, but we need to fill that role even more actively in the future and really be the music centre and the orchestra for everybody!
In your concerts this year as Musical Director designate, I’ve been struck by the rich, romantic sound you’ve already created with the players. What goes into the sound world that you create with the orchestra? (If I remember correctly, you talked before your first concert about drawing on the insights of the historical performance movement, and combining that with a more traditional approach).
We try to find the sound that fits a certain composer, a certain period of music and even a particular work of that composer. Every piece is different and requires a different approach. The amazing thing is that RNS are so open to experiment with different stylistic approach every time we work.
What prompted you to make the move to conducting?
It´s a been a passion for a long time, at first rather secret, now for the last few years more and more openly admitting to it. I guess I came out of the closet with my conducting baton.
Does your background in chamber music affect the way hat you approach the orchestra, particularly a chamber orchestra like Royal Northern Sinfonia?
Absolutely! Everything is chamber music, in the idea even piano solo works. And particularly all the symphonies you can´t even understand without the chamber music those composers have written.
When you conducted Schumann’s piano concerto from the piano in Hall One last year, did that change the way you approached the piece?
Any piece that I play and conduct I get lots of new insights. Mostly in just how chamber music – like everything is linked. A great joyful journey of new discoveries.
You spoke before your Proms performance about the importance to you of Mozart’s music, and Mozart is one of the themes of Royal Northern Sinfonia’s 2015/16 season – what’s so special about Mozart?
He speaks so immediately to our souls like no one else. Fragility of love, life, joy, passion, sadness. And still altogether an incredible celebration of our being here.
Which concert are you most looking forward to this season?
Hard to say. Such amazing programmes to look forward to. Sibelius Violin Concerto with Christian Tetzlaff, Brahms 3, Dvorak Cello Concerto with Tanja Tetzlaff, Sibelius 7, Mozart Requiem. All such favorites of mine, and I get to do them with one of the world´s best orchestras. What could be better?
If you could conduct any piece – what would it be?
Actually I´m allowed to fulfill lots of my big dreams in every programme, so I make my dreams come true!
NE:MM covers all genres and has a wide readership. What would you say to convince, say, a rock or hip hop fan to try classical music? And which RNS concert this season would you recommend for someone to try?
Come to Mozart Requiem or our next one with Sibelius Violin concerto, and let yourself be dragged in the intense emotion, rhythm and drive of the music. Plus the added quality of quiet playing that always makes us open ourselves in a much more vulnerable way than possible in any rock music (as much as I also love some rock music!). And having opened up that much, the outgoing parts of music “rock” even more!
You’re heavily involved in education – could you tell us a bit about your Rhapsody in School project in Germany, and about your involvement with the Inharmony project at Hawthorne Primary School.
Rhapsody in School is an initiative of artists living in Germany to go into schools, to play and to talk to the children about their passion, our passion for music. Over 300 artists participate now and we all do it in our free time for no fees. It´s a real signal of how desperately we feel that children should be given the chance to emotionally connect to classical music.
I visitied Hawthorne Primary School and was really impressed with the concept of every child playing an instrument, with the commitment of the staff and the wonderful character of the children. It was great playing for them, listening to what they had rehearsed and talking to them!
And what would you say to any child who thinks that classical music is “boring” – what should they listen to?
Find that one first work that you might love! Is it Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? Is it Beethoven 5? Is it Tchakovksy Piano Concerto? Rachmaninov? Mozart? And then find a second one… it might soon set off an amazing avalanche!
Bradley Creswick celebrates 20 years with RNS this year. What do you think are his best qualities as a musician, orchestra leader and human being?
He is one of the most wonderful musicians, humans and friends I know. Total openness, curiosity, joy of music-making! Never prejudiced, supportive, friendly, incredible musicianship. A pure joy to be working with him and spending time with him!
How are you enjoying our local beer?
Fantastic! Am not a great beer drinker (even though I´m German, something must have gone wrong there…), but I do enjoy the local beers when friends from the orchestra recommend them to me.
Football? Which team were you cheering for when Borussia Dortmund played Newcastle recently?
That was a tough one. You mean Borussia Mönchengladbach of course! I was just happy that somehow my really old world from childhood met my new world in Newcastle. The old link to Mönchengladbach is too strong though, they always get my cheers…
I've always enjoyed writing, and I fell into reviewing about five years ago when the classical music website Bachtrack happened to be looking for someone to cover a concert in Durham. Since then, I've written regularly for Bachtrack, the Northern Echo, NE:MM and in 2013 I founded Music in Durham, a concert listing and review site for classical music in Durham. My greatest love is baroque music, particularly Handel.
When I'm not writing, playing, singing or running Durham Singers' publicity, I have a day job in international sales, and in 2012 I wrote and published a book about my favourite Russian author, called "Dostoevsky's Russians".
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