In this section you can find texts that I write once in a while about music (usually programmes that I play or record), piano playing and so on.

The first text describes a recital programme that I played at the Royal Festival Hall in London in Autumn 2001:

 




Janacek - Brahms - Beethoven. Two works weathered by life’s experiences are the frame for a piece that dares the first revolutionary steps into a new musical life.

The atmosphere in Janacek’s cycle In the mists could be characterised as ‘wintry’ and even ‘mysterious’. Foreign colours, which still have their roots in the harmonic language of the nineteenth century and impressionism, are shaped into something entirely new, thus distinguishing Janacek´s from all other kinds of music. He creates a world which clearly is a heart-stirring one; rugged and individual. Stark contrasts dominate the work in spite of its title that suggests more misty colours. Intentionally, the pieces lack warmth almost entirely, even the most emotional outbursts tend to suggest a rugged landscape more than anything else. In this context, the innocent nursery rhyme in the third piece which nevertheless always ends in a doubt without consolation appears like an alien element within.

 

 

It is hard to believe that Brahms’ Sonata in f sharp minor op 2 is the composer’s debut work, or rather the first work, that he found worthy of publication (Sonata op1 was written after op 2).

At this point in time, Brahms had already produced a number of compositional drafts, which were however destroyed in Brahms’ constant striving towards perfectionism.

Sonata No 2 is one of the great masterworks of German Romanticism. It is imprinted with a stylistic consciousness, a kind of confidence of somebody who must have been aware of his potential influence on music history.

Some of the stylistic devices, which later on will come to distinguish Brahms as one of the great symphonic composers of the late nineteenth century, are already apparent. These are: the overview over the structure as a whole, his intertwining of movements through thematic allusions and a psychological development from the first to the last note.

What fascinates me personally in this sonata apart from its evident heroic drama, is its dark, ‘Nordic’ character.

For me, the inspiration of the main theme in the last movement, which in most parts isn´t "kämpferisch" as one might expect but more melancholic in nature, belong to the highlights of the Romantic Era. The end of the movement which leaves everything open is an exceptional achievement for a composer of only 25 years of age Listening to this work it is no wonder that Robert Schumann judged Brahms with rapturous enthusiasm on their first meeting. Nor is it difficult to imagine the fascinating effect that Brahms must have had on a woman as remarkable as Clara…

 

Each time I am asked about my continuing motivation and my life’s dedication to music, I use Beethoven’s Sonata op111 as an illustration. This piece has had a decisive influence on my development as a pianist. I was only 17 years old when my teacher at the Hanover Conservatoire, Prof Kämmerling, entrusted me with the work. In studying this central piece in musical literature, I realised to what vast, indescribable and mystical worlds music can advance.

More than through any other piece, I learnt about life, about transcendentality and - on a personal level - about God. In view of this, I personally value it above any other piece of music. The genius Beethoven was one of those few people in the history of human kind who achieved in bringing the truth of Being and Beyond a little closer to us…

 




More than 12 years after starting my carrer at the Leeds Piano Cometition, I was asked to contribute a text for their newsletter; here´s the result!


 Text for the newsletter of the Leeds International Piano Competition, January 2003:

"It all started in Leeds." A phrase that can be heard a lot from former prizewinners (although not only!) of this unique competition. Of course maybe I´m not completely neutral in my judgement, because for me it all started in Leeds as well. And it changed my life.

 

I came second in the 1990 competition, when I had just turned 20. I had finished school a year before that, and had wanted to set myself a big goal for the first year of my studies in Hanover with Karl-Heinz Kämmerling (with whom I had already worked for several years before that, as well as continuing for many years after the competition). So I prepared for both the Tchaikovski and the Leeds competitions of that year. I did not really aim for any kind of prize, as I didn´t have a clue where I was standing in international comparison. It just served as a good motivation to work on that particular repertoire for a year, and also learn some new works. I can recommend this rather relaxed attitude about competitions to every young musician taking part in one. It helps in every way and prevents from disappointment.

 

Here´s a first thing that I love about the Leeds: Every contestant can choose from quite a substantial list of pieces, and isn´t forced to learn a lot of repertoire just for that one competition, repertoire that maybe he or she wouldn´t care for so much as for pieces more or less deliberately chosen by him-/ herself.

 

Arriving in Leeds it soon becomes clear that there are a number of very special things about the way the competition is organised: It seems like an initiative by the people of the Leeds area for piano playing. As the organisation is all private, the musicians get to meet a lot of people who are dedicated to music and this particular project in a very impressive way. They are taken care of by those volunteers and practise in their houses, often share meals with the families. That alone is already an experience worth while! I feel privileged to still have a number of close friends (like Liz and Olav Arnold) from that memorable time. This enormous amount of private initiative, certainly put together by the great spirit and motivation of Fanny Waterman, gives the competition a face, if you will, and a very personal and human quality.

 

All that also reflects on the atmosphere in the place where all the pianists stay: Tetley Hall. It´s a great spot for getting to know other musicians with sometimes comparable, sometimes very different cultural backgrounds from one´s own. In “my” year, it took some time to warm up, I guess, but in the end we all had a lot of fun together, and it was good to share thoughts and feelings at this stage, when a lot for our future in music was to be decided, regardless if at this particular event or later. To understand that you´re not alone with your problems and hopes is especially important for pianists, who anyway have to make so much of their way on their own. Another recommendation for young musicians entering a competition like Leeds: Keep eyes and ears open, there´s a lot to learn and to enjoy apart from making it to a certain stage or prize.

 

Finally the artistic side: Needless to say, the level of playing was very high, like almost every time the Leeds is taking place. I used the opportunity to listen to several of my collegues, which was very interesting. But in the end the spectacular aspect of becoming a finalist was of course Simon Rattle! What a source of inspiration, warmth and spontenaity of music-making! For me the sparks were already in the air during our meeting at Fanny Waterman´s home, playing through the Schumann concerto on two pianos. It was like a classical jam session! I remember that I wanted to get some rest before my performance in the finals but my blood was bubbling of excitement of playing this concerto with Simon and the CBSO, and of trying all those ideas that we had talked about earlier. I won´t go into detail here, just that one story, that I´ve told so many times since, because it reflects, how Simon was able to achieve this enormous amount of freedom in the people he works with: During the (due to the circumstances rather short) rehearsal we tried out a tempo which was a lot faster than I had ever played the piece before. After that I said to Simon: "I love it, let´s do it that way, although most probably I won´t be able to get all notes right.", to which he responded: " I´m so sick of all those right notes." In that spirit the finals could start!

 

In the last 12 years since the competition I have been so incredibly lucky to have worked a lot with Simon, including two recordings for my exclusive label EMI. IN 2003 and 04 this collaboration will continue with concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic. This just as proof of how long something can last that started in Leeds.

 

Finally I´d like to take the opportunity to thank all those who make this very special musical event for young pianists possible, especially its founder Fanny Waterman. I wish you all successful and exciting future competitions. And to all pianists taking part this year and in future competitions I wish that it may also change their life in the most positive way, which doesn´t necessarily have to be connected to winning a prize.

 

Lars Vogt, January 0