Tessa Brinckman: Take Wing, Roll Back


Flutist Tessa Brinckman's Take Wing, Roll Back brings together new works for flute that reflect global influences. In solo tracks as well as duo settings, Brinckman displays a pervasive versatility navigating the diverse stylistic demands of the repertoire.


New York City-based flutist Tessa Brinckman has created a wide landscape of contemporary flute solos and duos, much of it in distant collaboration with acclaimed composers and musicians from France, USA, Japan, South Africa, and her native New Zealand. Her multiple flutes entwine with the culturally and temporally diverse sounds of Buchla, water tanks, taonga pūoro, guitar, prepared piano, field recordings and a poem. Take Wing, Roll Back invites the listener to geo-poetic worlds past and present, infused with humor, pathos and drive, offering a warm kind of futurism.

Dawn Brightens the Day of Mortals Robed in Purple is Norio Fukushi’s hymn to his beloved mountain. Eight sections lead with a poetic line:

The forests sway in the way of the wind / Deep in the forest dark the devil dwells / When stars from heaven fall, the lakes stand clear, reflecting / Fog subtly veils the face of the river / Dawn brightens the day of mortals robed in purple / Birds take wing with the morning / Nor sage nor seer knows where the endless prairie trail goes / Good indeed to be at rest

Sonus Redux: And the Wave Rolled Back is a wild collaboration of sources and composers, quoting Jean-Marie Leclair’s Sonata II in C major from the Premier Livre de Sonatas, Oeuvre I (1723) and Hunter S. Thompson, unfurling dense layers of Tessa Brinckman’s collection of baroque flutes, prepared piano, underpinned by Todd Barton’s Buchla harmonizations.

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Tessa Brinckman grew up with Māori stories of the taniwha (spiritual protectors and antagonists). Taniwha is a tribute to the dead, the living, ancient pathways and machines (specifically the subways), that vibrate the foundations of Manhattan. Stems were recorded in New Zealand (with Horomona Horo), in New York City and Oregon.

Wade Through Water and Zeuze question the limited Western view of what African music can be. Andile Khumalo references sounds from around the African continent, Asia and the West. Wade Through Water was inspired by the Hermann Hesse poem “Happiness". Tessa Brinckman adapted Andile’s original Wade (for clarinet and piano) to alto flute and piano, making use of the alto flute’s colorful extended techniques. “Ze uze” is an isiXhosa term with two meanings — to invite someone to visit, and to issue a warning about that visit.

You Never Come Out The Same is a collaborative score with Cara Stacey, and the title is a Bahian aphorism about the value of water and cycles in healing. The music draws from central African xylophone music, Sundanese chamber music and Māori waiata. Extended techniques on the piccolo and the prepared piano enhance the wilderness of emotions.

Tenderness of Cranes is derived from the traditional Japanese shakuhachi piece, Tsuru No Sugamori, depicting the life cycle of the wild crane, a symbol of longevity and bonding. Shirish Korde oscillates his music effortlessly between traditional Japanese and contemporary Western aesthetics and instrumental techniques.

A Cracticus Fancie melds together an archival recording of Denis Glover (1912-1980) reading his famous New Zealand poem, The Magpies, with field recordings, and contemporary live/processed piccolo sound-worlds. It was inspired an Australian First Nations story of cracticus tibicena saving the people from perpetual darkness, Denis Glover visiting Tessa Brinckman’s grandparents as a mischievous raconteur, a re-imagining of Denis’ poem from the viewpoint of a magpie, the Irish folk song The Magpie, and the Great Depression of the 1930s.

- Tessa Brinckman

Produced by Tessa Brinckman

Sean McCoy (OR) - recording/editing/mixing - Tracks 1-3, 5-8
Sheldon Steiger (NY) - mixing/mastering - Tracks 1-3, 5-8
Bahar Royaee (NYC) - mixing/mastering - Track 4
Ryan Streber (NYC) - recording - Tracks 2, 4, 5, 6
Thomas Vingtrinier (FR) - recording/editing - Track 1
Steve McGough (NZ) - recording - Track 4
Tessa Brinckman (NYC) - recording/editing - Track 4
Caleb Bird (NZ) - taonga pūoro stem edits - Track 4


Oktaven (NYC) (2022) - Tracks 2, 4, 5, 6
Broken Works (OR) (2014, 2019-2021) - Tracks 1, 3, 7, 8
Stebbings studio (NZ) (2020) - Track 4
Studio Sequenza (FR) (2020) - Track 1

Art direction/cover images - Tessa Brinckman

Design, layout & typography - Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com
Apple Motion - Jeremy Tressler, dreamflower.us

Tessa Brinckman

Interdisciplinary flutist/composer Tessa Brinckman has been praised for her “chameleon-like gifts” and “virtuoso elegance” (Gramophone), an “excellent... flutist” (Willamette Week) and “highlight of Portland” (New Music Box), who “play(s) her instrument with great beauty and eloquence” (Music Matters New Zealand). Originally from New Zealand, she has premiered well over a hundred new works (commissioning almost thirty), with many acclaimed classical music ensembles, concert series, musicians and composers across the globe. Now based in New York City since 2022, she enjoys creating and performing unique work that honors synesthesia, dialect, innate meter and collaboration, often on geo-political themes. She performs internationally as an orchestral, chamber, soloist and resident artist, in numerous and wildly diverse productions, from the Oregon Symphony, the Atlantic Center for the Arts (FL), Waikato and Whale Festival (South Africa), Goodman Theater (Chicago), Britt Festival Orchestra (OR), Wuzhen Theatre Festival (China), to Poisson Rouge and Roulette (New York City). Playing flute, piccolo, alto, bass, contrabass and baroque flutes, and miscellaneous keyboards, she also co-directs the ever-polymathic bi-coastal duo, Caballito Negro, with percussionist Terry Longshore, commissioning significant new work for flute and percussion. Her composition team for Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman’s White Snake was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award (2014). Both her experimental video (with Jane Rigler), Women in Parallel Empires (2021), exploring the moon, extraction, and “Empire”, and the animation The Gorgon Cycles (2023) (created with Miles Inada and Devyn McConachie) depicting Medusa’s rise in the Anthropocene, have won 18 film festival awards for music scoring, animation and experimental film.

Caroline Delume

Caroline Delume is renowned in her native France for her versatility in performing both modern and traditional repertoire, whether for guitar or theorbo. She is in demand as both a collaborator and soloist all over Europe, and composers such as Jean-Pascal Chaigne, Pascale Criton, Francisco Luque, Clara Maïda, and Florentine Mulsant have dedicated their new works to her. She is a professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris (CNSMDP) and the Conservatoire de Versailles Grand Parc.

Kathleen Supové

Kathleen Supové is one of America’s most acclaimed and versatile contemporary music pianists, constantly redefining what a pianist/keyboardist/performance artist is in today’s world. Ms. Supové annually presents a series of solo concerts entitled The Exploding Piano. Through her numerous and varied commissioning projects, including The Debussy Effect, she has been a vital force in creating stunning, important works for the late 20th and early 21st century piano repertory. The Exploding Piano also uses electronics, theatrical elements, vocal rants, performance art, staging, and interdisciplinary collaboration. In 2012, Supové received the John Cage Award from the ASCAP Foundation for “the artistry and passion with which she performs, commissions, records, and champions the music of our time.”


Todd Barton

American composer Todd Barton is a sonic adventurer, composer, educator and performer of abstract, freely improvised electronic music, specializing in Buchla, Serge, and Hordijk electronic musical instruments. For four decades he was Composer in Residence for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, teaching Music Composition and Electronic and Computer Music at Southern Oregon University. His numerous commissions include KRONOS Quartet, The Oregon Symphony, The Rogue Valley Symphony and San Jose Chamber Orchestra. He actively shares his work and expertise on social media, teaching electronic music online worldwide. He recently released his solo album, Below this Time Does Not Exist.

Horomona Horo

New Zealand Māori musician/composer Horomona Horo is a practitioner of taonga pūoro, the collective term for traditional Māori musical instruments, which includes various flutes, trumpets and percussion. He was mentored by the late Dr Hirini Melbourne and Dr Richard Nunns, and won the inaugural Dynasty Heritage Concerto Competition in 2001. He has represented New Zealand music in concerts and festivals in Europe, Asia, South America and Oceania. Described as the "master of his generation" by Maori cultural magazine, Mana, he has collaborated with renowned composers and musicians such as Gareth Farr, Martin Lodge, and the New Zealand String Quartet.

Norio Fukushi

Japanese composer Norio Fukushi writes for both Western and traditional Japanese instruments, and studied with Tomojiro Ikenouchi and Olivier Messiaen. He has had major works performed and recorded in the USA, Canada, Europe, and Asia. His honors include the Award of Excellence in the National Art Festival (Agency for Cultural Affairs), the first Nakajima Contemporary Music Prize, and the Third Saji Keizo Prize. He has served as President of the Japan Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM), as Vice President of the Japan Federation of Authors and Composers Associations, and as a judge for the Music Competition of Japan.

Andile Khumalo

Andile Khumalo is a South African composer and a music lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand. In 2013, he completed his Doctor of Musical Arts at Columbia University under the supervision of George Lewis, where he also studied with Fabien Levy and Tristan Murail. Prior to his DMA, Khumalo studied under Marco Stroppa at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart (HMDKS) and with Jürgen Bräuninger at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Please visit: music.columbia.edu/bios/andile-khumalo


Cara Stacey

South African musician/composer/musicologist Cara Stacey was the Standard Bank Young Artist for Music 2021. She is a pianist and southern African musical bow performer (um-rhubhe/uhadi/makhoyane) with a doctorate from University of Cape Town/SOAS. Her international collaborators include Shabaka Hutchings, Sarathy Korwar, Galina Juritz, Natalie Mason, Beat Keller, Matchume Zango, Jason Singh and Juliana Venter. She sits on the executive committee for the South African Society for Research in Music and is the International Council for Traditional Music country liaison office for the kingdom of Eswatini. She is a lecturer in Creative Music Technologies at University of Witwatersrand.

Shirish Korde

Shirish Korde is a composer of Indian descent who spent his early years in East Africa. Steeped in Indian and African musical traditions, he studied jazz, composition and ethnomusicology (including Indian drumming with Sharda Sahai) at Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory, and Brown University. He is celebrated for his expressive, complex synthesis of diverse cultures, ranging from Tuvan throat singing, Vedic chanting, to the Balinese gamelan. His theatrical and operatic works have received numerous awards and commissions, with performances at significant festivals and symphonic concert series worldwide. He is Professor of Music at the College of the Holy Cross (MA).



WRUU Interview

Interview with Dave Lake


— Dave Lake, 2.15.2024



Just as Linder is the primary focus on her CD, so Tessa Brinckman is the main reason-for-being of hers for New Focus Recordings. But although listeners may expect the natural delicacy of the flute to be in the forefront here, that is not the case. Indeed, this is a disc that will be of far greater interest to those who know or have a strong wish to discover Brinckman’s compositions and performances than to anyone else. In addition to playing multiple flutes (including alto, bass, contrabass, and piccolo) and prepared piano, Brinckman is either composer or co-creator of most of the music on the disc. Taniwha (2023), despite using piccolo and several different flutes, is a mostly percussive work that makes considerable use of Māori musical instruments. A Cracticus Fancie (2017) is for solo piccolo (live and processed) and combines poetry with, again, percussive elements, all within a rather complex narrative whose bounds are not clear from the music itself but need to be studied by listeners who want to get the full intended effect of the material. Those two works are by Brinckman herself; she is also co-creator of three others on the disc. Sonus Redux (2020, with Todd Barton) is sonically interesting in its mixing of Baroque flutes with prepared piano and Buchla synthesizer. Wade Through Water (2023, with Andile Khumalo) effectively contrasts the alto flute with piano exclamations and, at a length of just three minutes, makes its points without belaboring them. You Never Come Out the Same(2023, with Cara Stacey) is much more about percussion (played by both Brinckman and Kathleen Supové) than it is focused on Brinckman’s piccolo, which mostly produces punctuation points. Also on the CD are three works for which Brinckman is performer but not composer/creator. Norio Fukushi’s Dawn Brightens the Day of Mortals Robed in Purple (1992) is the longest piece on the disc (more than 12 minutes). Written for flute and guitar, it includes some sections in which the instruments build on each other’s differing sounds and means of sound production, and others in which they are strongly contrasted. Khumalo’s Zeuze (2014) is the shortest piece offered here (less than two-and-a-half minutes) and one of the few allowing the flute expressiveness in accord with its more-typical sound – giving the piano the contrasting percussive material. And Shirish Korde’s Tenderness of Cranes (1990) is not only the oldest work presented on the disc but also one of the most challenging: an 11-minute work for solo flute that gives Brinckman plenty of opportunities to showcase the many techniques with which the instrument can be played and the many sounds it can produce. Unfortunately, the piece is not particularly compelling in its own right – it is something of an esoteric offering that Brinckman’s fellow flautists will find more interesting than will people who play other instruments or none at all. Still, if this CD reaches out only to a limited audience by virtue of the music itself and the performances, it is more than satisfactory in displaying both the compositions and the interpretations for those with a strong interest in contemporary flute music – and even more so for those fascinated by Brinckman’s personal thoughtfulness and creativity.

— Mark Estren, 2.22.2024


The Art Music Lounge

Tessa Brinckman is a contemporary flautist-composer who appears, from her photo, to be in her 50s, yet I had never heard of her previously. And small wonder. She doesn’t play Mozart Flute Concerti or cute little French pieces on her instrument. She plays edgy modern pieces using bitonality, atonality and microtonality—all “poison” words in the classical music business, whose goal it is to spread pleasant tunes and conventional harmony across the globe.

Indeed, her musical tastes as well as her spotless technique are easily the equal of such more famous flautists as the (mostly conventional) James Galway and (equally experimental) Tara Helen O’Connor, and even O’Connor isn’t all that well known, either. Yet ironically, there is beauty and even sensuality in several of these pieces, including the opening Dawn Brightens the Day by Norio Fukushi, evidently a Japanese name (although possibly Japanese-American) and thus a descendant of the rich Asian flute tradition. Despite the lack of a set tonality through most of this piece, the musical progression is logical and it contains a brief but lovely melody in the middle. I was particularly fascinated by the playing of guitarist Caroline Delume, who makes her instrument sound more like a lute and, in a few spots, like a kalimba. I wonder if that was the composer’s direction or just how she felt the music as she played it. Running 12 minutes and seven seconds, this is the longest piece on the CD; to be honest, I felt it was too long, tending to repeat itself (at least in mood and general feeling if not in actual notes) as it wore on.

By contrast, Andile Khumalo’s Zeuste is fairly short (2:21). It is tightly and compactly constructed, with a brisk, running melodic line played by the flute while the piano uses mostly single notes and brief staccato chords to accompany it. Although not tonal, this piece sounded modal to me and by contrast with the first piece, it ends too soon, in the middle of a phrase.

Yet perhaps the most arresting piece on the album is Sonus Redux, a collaboration between Brinckman and Todd Barton, who plays the odd-sounding Buchla, an electronic synthesizer invented in 1963 that I had never heard or heard of before. Here, Brinckman multiple-tracks herself on the multiple Baroque flutes (read: recorders) she plays along with prepared piano. Some of the effects created on the Buchla include impressions of a tape running backwards. Most of this music falls into the category of ambient sounds; there is minimal development going on. It is more like layered music than music that evolves through variations.

But if you think this is strange, wait until you hear Brinckman’s own Taniwha. Here she multiple-tracks herself on piccolo, flute, alto flute, bass and contrabass flutes in addition to something called the Horomona Horo. This, I learned online, is an array of percussion instruments which stem from the Maori tradition, yet the music is far more abstract than any Maori music I’ve ever heard before (as well as more syncopated and including a few microtonal slides). In time, this piece, too, becomes quite syncopated—sort of a cross between jazz and World Music. In any case, it is entirely unique.

The Andile Khumalo-Brinckman piece Wade Through Water again fuses Eastern musical ideas and modes with modern Western classical harmonies, but this piece flows more easily and is more emotionally appealing, less purely cerebral than the opening number. You Never Come Out the Same turns out to be an entirely syncopated piece with a loping sort of beat in which both th flute and piano explore short motifs, some of which congeal into themes and some of which don’t: you just “never come out the same.” Personally I liked this piece best of all because of the rhythm as well as the head games it plays with the listener. About a third of the way through, the tempo slackens, the steady rhythm stops, and we get some bizarre effects played by Brinckman on prepared piano; then a fairly quiet passage with just a whisper of sound in the background before Brinckman re-enters, this time on the flute against the accompanist’s prepared piano. Hey, it’s always good to be prepared for anything! At one point, Supové’s prepared piano sound like a car motor starting up…then, believe it or not, we return to the funky syncopated beat of the beginning, now somewhat modified and occasionally accelerating in tempo.

Shirish Korde’s The Tenderness of Cranes is another Oriental-sounding piece, this time for solo flute, moving around in themes, rhythm and harmony throughout its 11-minute duration. I felt that this piece, too, overstayed its welcome; a few minutes of tender cranes is about all I can handle, particularly since there are spots in this piece where Korde repeats short motifs ad infinitum.

Unfortunately, the album ends with a piece so abstract that I couldn’t follow it and didn’t have a clue what it was about other than magpies and cordon-waddle-doodle (words spoken by some unidentified male voice) while Brinckman plays her own waddle-doodle on the piccolo. Well, cordon-waddle-doodle to you too, dear. Oh yes, Elizabeth is dead now, too, and the farm’s still there. Mortgage corporations couldn’t give it away, but the magpies are singing. Who cares?

Overall, however, an interesting olio of new pieces in different styles. You certainly can’t accuse Brinckman of not being adventurous!

— Lynn Bayley, 3.05.2024


NZ Listener Interview

Flautist's flight - A United Nations of styles mark Tessa Brinckman's collection of flute pieces.

"I guess new music broke Zoom," quips Tessa Brinckman. The flautist is discussing her just- released album, Take Wing, Roll Back (New Focus Recordings), comprised entirely of contemporary compositions, when the Zoom connection revolts.

The internet has it wrong; Take Wing, Roll Back is one of the most interesting releases of the year so far - a United Nations of musical styles given focus by Brinckman's playing. "I like uniting different cultures, places. It's almost like I'm uniting parts of myself," she says.

Brinckman has lived and worked in the US for years, but she was born in Aotearoa to a Kiwi mum and South African dad, and as a young person, spent time in both parents' home countries. "I was born bifurcated, you might say, between two cultural and colonial realities."

Global influences: Tessa Brinckman lived in NZ and South Africa before settling in the US.

The South African reality of that time was Apartheid, and geopolitics remain prominent in the way Brinckman experiences life and music. "Whether you've lived in South Africa or has deep family connections, you can either go, 'Well, this is the way it is and I'm not going to think about it, or you're deeply affected by the human rights violations and they shape your perspective on how you want to be a creative."

Take Wing, Roll Back, therefore, contains a pair of works by the Black South African composer Andile Khumalo, who applies French techniques to Asian and African sonorities. That mash-up of styles continues throughout the album, including on Brinckman's own compositions. The mystical huff and puff of Taniwha, which features taonga puoro by Horomona Horo, explicitly references Aotearoa, but it was inspired by the sounds of the New York subway, and acts as a homage to the city to which Brinckman moved in 2022 after many years in Oregon. The switch has been good for her.

"I've been lucky," she says. "It's very competitive but there's a lot of generosity there. People are interested in each other's work; they'll show up to concerts and they're big on building relationships, which is essential.”

While Brinckman operates mostly in the contemporary classical world playing in small groups, she confesses a love for orchestral music, too - with a few reservations. "I enjoy the repertoire, and it's nourishing to sit inside that body of sound," she says. "I love to play 19th-century music, but I believe in acknowledging the realities. Many composers from our past were probably sexist, racist and classist. I don't worship those composers, but I appreciate their work. I don't want a hagiography and I don't offer that to past composers. We just need to be generous, realistic and have good critical thinking."

Tessa Brinckman's Take Wing, Roll Back is out now on streaming services and through www.newfocusrecordings.com.

— Richard Betts, 4.03.2024


NZ Listener

feat. Shirish Korde, Tenderness of Cranes. Tessa Brinckman flute.

It’s a cliché but Tessa Brinckman truly is a citizen of the world. Born in New Zealand, as a young person she spent time in South Africa, and now lives in New York. Her new album, Take Wing, Roll Back, is similarly multinational. Shirish Korde, the composer of this track, is a Uganda-born American with Indian ancestry, so naturally his piece draws on Japanese folk music. At just shy of 11 minutes, it’s a long piece by solo flute standards, but the variation in technique and timbre Brinckman draws from her instrument means you don’t notice the time. Keep an eye out for our interview with Brinckman in the March 30 issue.

— Richard Betts, 4.03.2024


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