Davóne Tines opened his first Carnegie Hall solo recital with an informal, yet certainly not impromptu, address to the audience about approaching the career milestone he was about to undertake. Recital no. 1: Mass is a program he’s performed several times before, and will continue to present in the northeastern states through the winter and into next year. It’s a powerful program befitting a singer who seems intent on revolutionizing classical music performance without kicking in its teeth. 

Davóne Tines
© Jennifer Taylor

Intermingling Bach (selections from Cantata BWV 170 and the St Matthew Passion) and Julius Eastman with settings of spirituals by composer Tyshawn Sorey, Tines strung the disparate program together with passion, and with the fine accompaniment of pianist Adam Nielsen. This presentation also capped a remarkable six weeks in New York City for Tines, during which he appeared as soloist in Tyshawn Sorey’s epic Monochromatic Light (Afterlife) at Park Avenue Armory and, with violinist Jennifer Koh, in Everything Rises, a stunning set piece created in collaboration with composer Ken Ueno. 

His friendly introduction asked audience members, rather facetiously, if any of them had ever had a problem, then went about describing one of his: What to do with a Carnegie Hall recital? He also discussed past problems, such as having to miss family events for a weekly job singing in a church, and not one of his denomination. Underscoring the monologue was the idea of making connections resolving things which seem to be in conflict, like family and career, or the canon and the contemporary. 

With that said, and without so much as a breath in preparation, he slid into a brief, unaccompanied setting of the prayer Kyrie by Caroline Shaw that flowed with barely a ripple into a Bach aria and then just as easily drifted into another Shaw prayer. The screen behind him displayed neither supertitle nor translation but continued his introductory questions: What are you worried about? What would you give up to end that worry? What are you thankful for?

Adam Nielsen and Davóne Tines
© Jennifer Taylor

Describing Tines’ performance as ‘relaxed’ would run the risk of suggesting something casual or unrehearsed. Saying it was ‘effortless’ would disregard the work that got him to Carnegie Hall. And to claim it left this listener breathless would sound as if it were suspenseful, a feeling not imparted by the gentle slopes of his glissando. He flew slowly through the short selections without pause and without commentary, without needing to trace the connections between an old, white European master, a white Pulitzer-winning woman from (like himself) the mid-Atlantic states, and a black MacArthur fellow from New Jersey who doubles as a jazz drummer. He was there to present a continuity, not to declare revisionist equanimity. 

Yet all roads on this night led to Eastman, whose work has only come into acceptance some 30 years after his death. As if on a mission to right past wrongs, Tines – like Eastman, outside the classical mainstream as a black and openly gay man – sang the prelude to The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc, which Eastman himself sings on a recording released posthumously in 2005. Pulling from a well of inner strength held in reserve until this point, Tines sang without accompaniment Eastman’s series of saint attributions: “Saint Michael said, Saint Catherine said, Saint Margaret said,” repeating until finally, “Joan, speak boldly when they question you.” 

This wasn’t the end of the concert, but it seemed the point of it. Tines sang another prayer and encored with the spiritual Nobody knows the trouble I've seen. Between the two, he asked audience members to introduce themselves to each other and then to ask each other how they will speak boldly. But the point had been made: Davóne Tines is here to speak boldly, and intends to be heard.