Keep the Philharmonia Playing: many live concerts up to March 2021 are sadly cancelled. If you can, give what you can to keep the Philharmonia playing for you.

Donate now

Lockdown Listening with Saul Nathan

Saul Nathan with his dog kneeling on the ground in the woods

This month, outgoing Chair of the Philharmonia, Saul Nathan, shares his listening picks, including a bit of jazz, piano for left hand, and Lionel Richie.

Listen along through the videos below, or find the full albums in our Lockdown Listening playlist on Spotify.

If you asked me to name 10 favourite artists and recordings, you would likely get a different answer for every day of the year. So, for this Lockdown Listening, I have chosen music which evokes enduring connections and memories for me, through thick and thin. But it’s much harder to have to limit to a top 10 than I thought it would be!

I grew up playing music from a very young age and learned to play the violin and piano. My teachers, notably David Takeno and Marjorie Dutton have been inspirations to me. I was neither talented nor hard working enough to make it my career however, and it is that knowledge that makes me admire all who make music their life’s work. And of course, I am eternally grateful for the pleasure that music gives to all of us.


Bach Chaconne from the Partita in D Minor, BWV 1004

No selection would be complete without Bach. From the simplest piano piece (think the Prelude in C, BWV 846) to the most complex choral works, the sheer scale and imagination of what Bach conceived is still to my mind, one of the greatest of all human endeavours. I have always had a particular love of the sonatas and partitas for violin, and among my earliest memories was listening to these, especially the joyful E major partita. The most demanding and orchestral is the D minor chaconne. It is monumental and technically colossal. In this recording, Vengerov shows his complete mastery.

Mozart Sinfonie Concertante for Violin and Viola, K364

Ah Mozart, how to choose? Two of my great performing heroes, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman provide the answer; and with one of my favourite orchestras (apart from the Philharmonia), the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. Mozart wrote this when he was 24 – that’s really quite annoying! This recording has the added bonus of the Handel Halvorsen Passacaglia – one of the most fun, exuberant, show- off pieces for string players. Enjoy!

Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major, Op 61

My earliest live concert experience was hearing Isaac Stern perform this at the Albert Hall. I was so inspired that I wrote to Stern afterwards. About a year later, a signed photograph arrived in the mail, wishing me “many happy years with music”. It is one of my more special possessions and a sentiment I wish everyone. The concerto has been an essential part of my life.

Brahms Violin Sonata in A Major, Op 100

Brahms is like your best friend. You can find solace and joy, serenity and agitation. Of course, the great symphonies contain it all on a massive scale. But among his solo and chamber pieces, there is incredible range and intimacy evidence of which is here in the A major Sonata for violin and piano.

Mahler’s 8th Symphony

I have loved Mahler from my lazy years as a teenager. What better way to while away an afternoon in the summer holidays than listening to Mahler on full blast on what we quaintly called a “hi-fi”? The closer I have got to know the workings of the Philharmonia over the last 5 years, the more I am acutely aware of the risk in putting on lavish performances. Imagine, Mahler commandeered 858 singers and 171 instrumentalists at the premier of his staggering 8th Symphony. More donations please!!!

Maurice Ravel, Piano Concerto for Left Hand

I first heard this piece at a balmy summer concert at the Hollywood Bowl in the mid 1980s. I was transfixed by the depth of the music and the demands it makes of the soloist. Ravel is truly one of the great orchestrators of the 20th century. This performance is by the brilliant but sadly recently deceased American pianist, Leon Fleisher, who like Paul Wittgenstein for whom the concerto was written, was confined to playing only with his left hand.

Igor Stravinsky, The Firebird

As a 10-year-old, I played in a youth orchestra and we performed the Firebird. It is the one concert in which I have performed with Sam Coles (who was principal flute – aged 12 I think!). Nadia Boulanger, the great composition teacher attended the premier of the Firebird in 1910, the same year of the premier of Mahler’s 8th , by the way. A formidable and extraordinarily influential pedagogue, she taught and inspired many of the 20th century’s greatest composers and performers. My next few selections show that music is full of connections. It is the one language which unites, and its course runs like the longest, meandering river you can imagine. The Philharmonia’s performances of the Firebird (and Esa-Pekka’s in particular) always give me goosebumps. But to find this short recording of Stravinsky conducting the orchestra in 1965 is really special.

Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring

Copland was one of Boulanger’s pupils. Nothing to say here other than this music is a tribute to America’s great landscapes and its capacity for human endeavour. Think of an Ansell Adams photograph turned into music. For me it is the evocation of better times and infinite possibility.

Michel Legrand, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg

Composer and pianist, Michel Legrand was yet another student of Boulanger (see what I mean about connections?) He is one of the most lyrical, versatile composers of the 20th century. I have always loved his songs and remember being mesmerised by his virtuosity. I adore jazz as much as classical music particularly because of the endless potential for variety in improvisation. Another of my favourite musicians is the legendary Oscar Peterson whose vast hands belied a delicacy of technique honed by studying Scarlatti as a young player. He was the ultimate gentle giant and a great hero who I was lucky enough to see perform several times live. So, it’s a double treat to have this recording of Legrand and Peterson playing together. Look out for how Legrand is in awe of Oscar!

Jacob Collier, All Night Long

Mentored by Quincy Jones (another Boulanger student who also appears fleetingly in this video…) Jacob Collier is just ridiculously talented. This cover version of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” is an exuberant homage to music. So, to end, no matter where you find yourselves and whatever your musical tastes, “let the music play on, (play on, play on, play on…)”