February 10, 2012
The Hammer of Lutz
We interviewed Columbus Symphony Orchestra percussions (and stage manager) Bill Lutz last week, looking for some insight into the extra, unusual percussion instruments used in a performance of Gustrav Mahler's Symphony No. 6. We got insight in spades, so much so that we followed up with a video interview so you could see - and hear - some of what Lutz was discussing.
Believe it or not, after both the print piece and the video, there was still some cool stuff that wasn't covered.
Lutz in particular noted music cirector Jean-Marie Zeitouni's hands-on approach to creating the various sounds Mahler inserted into the piece, noting Zeitouni is himself a percussionist.
"He wants options," Lutz said. "Jean-Marie has an idea in his mind of the kind of sound he wants, and we try a bunch of different things to get to that sound. There is a lot of trial and error."
Lutz said this approach isn't restricted to the percussion section - that Zeitouni has a clear "vision" and is always actively considering tone production and quality, and engages the orchestra in helping define it.
Of course, the bulk of our talk with Lutz was concerning the percussion, and specifically on the Mahler 6. You gotta watch the video if you haven't already.
The interesting thing about the famous hammer part - beyond, as Lutz related, the superstition that caused Mahler to reduce the number of hammer strikes in the piece from three to two (watch the video for a full explanation) - is that, despite all the effort made on the sound of the hammer ("a really big, boomy thud" Lutz told us) is the visual element of wiedling a giant hammer.
"You're forced to think of it as a visual element," Lutz explained. "You go full force, and the nature of that makes it dramatic."