Ottmer, Jacob- Final Breath, for percussion trio

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Final Breath, for percussion trio includes a score and parts. 

Program Notes: 

Final Breath (2020) was written for the purpose of being a competition piece in which performers would display fine technical prowess on their instruments as well as their ability to communicate as an ensemble. The communication necessary for this piece to succeed is shared between every performer at least once and often a chain of this communication becomes necessary, being passed from one performer to another in a row. Each percussionist must manage playing multiple instruments and methods of playing their instruments – one must sit and play the timpani while pedaling the vibraphone, another must play a variety of toms and glockenspiel, and the last player must move between a marimba and assorted cymbals with various implements.

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Review from Percussive Notes (2023):

Several key features of “Final Breath” make it both distinctive and memorable. Notably, the minimal instrumentation shared by three players is grouped in an intriguing way — particularly the Percussion 1 part, which includes vibraphone and timpani. Another feature is that the entire piece blends elements of traditional, classical Western music with aleatory elements. This attribute is sure to charm an audience with a wide variety of tastes. Additionally, there are lovely applications of the instruments’ singing capabilities, including bowed vibraphone and bowed marimba.

It should be noted that “Final Breath” is over ten minutes in length, according to the reference recording on the publisher’s website. It is a quilt of through-composed sections, with each section usually marked by a fermata, which allows performers to have transition time between instruments and implements. The individual sections create unique, yet related, atmospheres — some that are more metered and rhythmic, and others that are amorphous and open. This hallmark of “Final Breath” portrays a sense of simultaneous disorganization and organization, as though the freeness (or chaos) has a purpose, path, or journey.

The included parts have straightforward notation, and were clearly written by a percussionist, as there are very detailed performer’s notes that explain the notation techniques used. For example, at one point in Player 1’s part, there is a “split vibraphone” moment, in which the top staff notates the bowed notes, while the bottom staff indicates the struck notes — a very clever and clear way to indicate this concept. Also explained in that same passage is that the struck notes should be bowed directly after striking. Additionally, transitions have been planned, with fermati assisting in the transitions between either instruments or implements needed for the next section.

Those looking for a trio that will challenge the performers while engaging listeners are sure to find this and more in “Final Breath.”

—Cassie Bunting

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