Weekend concert strives to present Mozart's true vision

by John Kim | 3/30/05 5:00am

When Christopher McMullen-Laird '05 decided not to take classes his senior year, he was not suffering from the loss of motivation that often afflicts Dartmouth students; it was quite the opposite. McMullen-Laird chose to forgo the usual senior routine in order to pursue a fellowship more in line with his actual interests, and on Sat., April 2 at 7 p.m., McMullen-Laird will hold a concert in Rollins Chapel that he hopes will instill a passion for his work in others.

McMullen-Laird's area of expertise involves "historically-informed performance," where the performer seeks to play classical music in the composer's original vision. Those interested in historically-informed performance use instruments or reproductions of instruments from centuries past. McMullen-Laird, however, insists that the field goes beyond the equipment used, in that it also requires a change in mindset.

"Just because you give someone a Baroque violin doesn't mean they're going to sound like a Baroque violinist," he said. "You have to be able to look at the original sources and adjust your playing style accordingly."

The senior said he relished the opportunity to organize and conduct this Saturday's concert, where he will be presenting a selection of works written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1791, the last year of the renowned composer's life.

The works include "Concerto for Basset Clarinet," a fragment from Mozart's "Requiem" and scenes from the operas "La Clemenza di Tito" and "Die Zauberflte." McMullen-Laird will be joined by the Arcadia Players, a professional regional group also interested in period instrumentation, and Diane Heffner, a basset clarinet soloist. Also helping in the endeavor will be a student chorus, four professional vocal soloists and three student vocal soloists: Felicia Plunkett '05, Elizabeth Ranson '06 and Holly Sedillos '05.

McMullen-Laird acknowledges that you cannot know everything about music in 1791, since recordings of the time are unavailable. He said he enjoys that the process is not so arbitrary, because it staves off repetitiveness.

"Not everything is set in stone, and this allows for an interesting and distinct performance each night," he said.

When evidence does exist, it is the job of the historically-informed musician to use it. For example, Mozart's students actually finished his requiem after his death, so period instrumentalists only play the notes that Mozart himself wrote. McMullen-Laird admits, "It could be a disaster. In the beginning, the instrumentation will be rich and full, but it will peter out towards the end because Mozart passed away before fleshing out the later parts of his composition."

Overall, McMullen-Laird said he considers historically-informed performance "one of the most important avant-gardes of the late twentieth century."

"When you ignore the historical evidence, it's as if you're playing a different piece of music altogether," he said. Thus, in the face of inevitable change, McMullen-Laird continues his quest to preserve the roots of Western music, one note at a time.