Philharmonic violist Leah Ferguson curated this playlist for our audience, and has shared her thoughts about the pieces she’s recommending. Enjoy!
Each recording on this playlist holds a special place in my heart. Some I’ve listened to regularly for over 15 years, and some are new discoveries that have helped me get through the pandemic. Making this playlist was therapeutic and is a warm reminder of the music I love and can’t wait to get back to performing live. I’m finding a lot of comfort in holding these pieces close right now. I hope they bring you as much joy as they have brought me!
Maisky / Argerich: Beethoven’s Cello Sonata
I recently finished Maynard Solomon’s biography of Beethoven, so have been on a big Beethoven listening kick. I love how his melodies are often so gestural and fragmented yet so flowing and full of life. This recording is a favorite new discovery; Mischa Maisky and Martha Argerich create so many completely different textures and colors.
Hilary Hahn: Bach Fugue
Hilary Hahn is one of my all-time favorites; her playing is truly immaculate and powerful. (Side note: people always tell me that we look alike!) Learning and memorizing this fugue was one of my quarantine projects, so I listened to this recording many times over the past few months.
Spektral Quartet: Fanm d’Ayiti
This is a great album from last year that I’ve really enjoyed listening to. This title of this piece means “Women of Haiti” in Haitian Creole. The whole album is very beautiful and poignant, definitely worth a listen.
Seong-Jin Cho: Mozart
I love Seong-Jin’s phrasing and the energy in his playing. We performed with him in 2019 during the Shanghai Residency, which was fantastic!
Kathleen Battle: Voices of Spring
I absolutely love Kathleen Battle’s voice — “perfect” is a word that comes to mind! She is one of my tone idols — so pure, stunning, and infinitely colorful. This piece is really fun and I love watching the video of this performance on YouTube as well.
Alicia de Larrocha
My parents had many Alicia de Larrocha CDs around the house when I was little (back when people used CDs and stereos!), and I loved listening to her playing. Her recordings always have a touch of nostalgia for me.
Maria João Pires: Mozart’s Facile
She is another one of my piano favorites. I love this movement so much — how Mozart brings out so much emotion and tenderness through the simplest melody, in a sonata that he called the “Facile” (or “easy”) sonata. I love how she plays it — each time the theme is repeated it’s different: different emotion, different color, different inflection. I find Mozart piano sonatas so comforting and often listen to this album; they have a really intimate, tender, and personal quality.
Yo-Yo Ma: Arpeggione
This is one of my favorite pieces to play on the viola. I always am amazed by his epic slide at 9 min 48 seconds!
New York Philharmonic / Bernstein: Schumann’s 4th Symphony
This piece is so much fun to play! Great viola part, too. The NY Phil and Bernstein recordings are fabulous and some of my go-tos; they’re so energetic and the music feels alive.
Kate Liu: Chopin’s Andante spianato
Kate and I studied at the same youth music program in Chicago, and I remember watching this performance live while she was competing in the Chopin Piano Competition in Poland. This piece is really pretty, and her interpretation is so stylish and gorgeous.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Riccardo Muti: Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet
I think this is one of the most beautifully evocative pieces ever. This movement represents the Balcony Scene — I think the way Prokofiev captures the innocence and beauty of the characters through orchestral writing is unbelievable, a true masterpiece. In early 2020 I was invited to play guest principal viola with Maestro Muti and the CSO on this piece; it was an incredible experience, and this will forever be an extra special piece for me.
Anita Rachvelishvili: Carmen
I’m totally obsessed with her! She has the most gorgeous sound. She’s at the top of my list of artists I can’t wait to see perform live once concerts resume.
Jessye Norman: Frauenliebe und Leben and Du bist wie eine Blume
Jessye Norman is incredible, and I love these two pieces. The second one has to be one of the most beautiful songs of all time, and especially the way she sings it.
Itzhak Perlman: Kreisler’s Schön Rosmarin
I attended the Perlman Music Program for several years in high school, and remember many nights of staying up late listening to “Mr. P’s” recordings with other students. We would just marvel and nerd out about how gorgeous his playing is; this recording is always a standout for me.
Elena Urioste: Estrellita
I got to see Elena play at the Sarasota Music Festival in 2014, and she is fantastic; this whole album is stellar.
Eliesha is a fabulous Grammy-nominated violist and member of The Cleveland Orchestra. I did my undergrad at the Cleveland Institute of Music and got to hear her perform several times around Cleveland — she was and is a big inspiration. Her albums are all gorgeous.
Tabea Zimmermann: Albeniz
Tabea is one of my favorite violists, and I’ve been loving this new album — released just this April, during the pandemic.
Muti: Il trovatore
I love this opera so much that last summer I arranged this a duet for other instruments to play with a friend — needless to say, it didn’t really work! I wish there was more Verdi for us instrumentalists to play, but am happily settling for these CDs.
New York Philharmonic: Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, Classical
Nothing is more fun than performing this movement! It always makes me smile. Some parts are so silly; I always laugh at the violin part at 2’40”.
Jessie Montgomery: Strum
I love Jessie’s music — can’t wait for her Project 19 commission!
Takács Quartet: Slow movement from Beethoven’s Harp Quartet
I got to perform this two summers ago at the Tanglewood Music Festival; the slow movement has such a heartfelt, tender, and consoling quality. The blend of voices is so beautiful.
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Andris Nelsons: Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6
Before joining the NY Phil, I was a member of the Boston Symphony, where we were recording all the Shostakovich symphonies. I treasure those live recordings; this movement was a standout — it’s so fun, silly, and conversational.
Vienna Philharmonic / Andre Previn: Sinfonia domestica
The NY Phil played this with Franz Welser-Möst in our penultimate week of concerts before the shutdown. The concerts with him were really moving, and it’s one of my new favorite Strauss pieces — it’s also insanely difficult! There’s something so old-world and nostalgic about this piece, reminiscent of another time. Being in the middle of that huge sound on stage is incredible, and I miss it a lot. Listening to this recording is reminding me of what we all have to look forward to when orchestra concerts can resume.