Graham Johns got to try out his new Hammerschlag in Mahler’s sixth symphony at Liverpool last night and it pratically stopped shipping on the Mersey. What a whack! Two, actually. And the Scherzo performed before the Andante, which is my presently preferred order. A terrific interpretation of the terror-inducing Sixth by Vasily Petrenko and the Phil.
But back to the whacks. You will recall that Graham made his own noisebox for the performance. He did so, he tells me, in conjunction with Roger Cline, double-bass of the Chicago Symphony, who made the moveable diaphragm that gave the box its traffic stopping resonance. Roger is a very talented carpenter who has made all sorts of percussion instruments over the years, including bamboo whips and a volume controllable ratchet.
Where was I? Oh, the stage.
So before the performance Graham mentioned to me that the last symphony they played at the Phil before its major refurbishment20-odd years ago was Mahler 6. What if? he thought. So he got permission from the Phil admin and warned the conductor in advance.
In the finale of M6 he lifted his hammer and – smash! – went right through the stage floor. Smash again! Second blow. After that, the demolition crew didn’t have much left to do.