Classical Music World: Musical Taste

By ANN MCLAUGHLIN, Artistic Director
Los Alamos Concert Association

I don’t like sushi. Growing up near fishing boat and cannery aromas conditioned me to avoid eating anything raw from the sea and there is something about that chewy seaweed wrap that sets my teeth on edge. My husband and children love the stuff.

Musical taste, like culinary taste, is a very personal matter.

Several years ago, I heard from two friends after a concert. One described the experience as “transcendent.” The other referred to “that horrible, horrible pianist.” And guess what? They were both right. 

In matters of taste, there is no dispute.

I’ve been to plenty of concerts that were either panned or praised by critics and then wondered if we heard the same performance. Just last week I attended a concert that concluded with a long piece that struck me as a colossal waste of energy and was stunned when everyone around me leapt up and cheered. I was hungry and too warm and maybe wasn’t in the mood for a heavy dose of romanticism, but I stuck to my opinion and to my seat! So there!

At the Los Alamos Concert Association, we take differing tastes very much into account when putting together a concert season. One of the first things we do at board meetings after every performance is to discuss feedback we have gotten from the audience. We keep statistics on attendance to get an idea of what people like to hear. Then we strive for variety over the course of two or three seasons.     

We do try to give people a sense of what is new and interesting in the world of classical music. Sometimes that involves new music, but more often it is about how the artists present themselves and their repertoire. 

There has been a trend, particularly among younger artists, to move away from solemn, “museum-like” performances. They are more likely to speak directly to the audience about the music. They often dress casually. They almost routinely greet the audience post-performance and sign autographs. These are all changes in keeping with our more casual world and, in my view, all to the good.

Music performed live, whether composed in 1615 or 400 years later, is a living, breathing art. Attending a concert is very much a social occasion, to be savored like a fine meal with friends.   

At LACA, we hope that our new season (our 70th!) will have something for every musical palate.

Sean Chen, a charismatic 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition medalist, will open on September 25th with Chopin, Ravel, Debussy, Medtner and Rachmaninoff.

In November, distinguished Hungarian conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy will lead the Irish Chamber Orchestra in concertos by C.P.E. Bach and Haydn with rising cello superstar István Várdai.

January will bring the GRAMMY-winning gentlemen of Chanticleer, dubbed “the reigning gods of the men’s chorus world” by the Washington Post.   

String quartet enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Dover Quartet in March. This brilliant young ensemble took the chamber music world by storm following their 2013 sweep of the prestigious Banff International String Quartet Competition. 

And, to close the season in April, the much-admired clarinet/piano duo of Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu (another Cliburn medalist) will return to Los Alamos with their matchless artistry and unique ability to connect with an audience.

Naturally, we always hope for a hall full of musical omnivores. We also hope that if something on the menu strikes you as odd or unfamiliar, you won’t be afraid to have a taste!

For more about our artists, visit

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