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Davóne Tines takes an audience to church in Cambridge

Treating Lauryn Hill with the same spiritual gravitas as Handel, Tines and pianist John Bitoy presented their own spin on the Christian Mass

Singer Davóne Tines, pictured in this file photo, presented a powerfully curated recital program at Longy School of Music's Pickman Hall on Wednesday, April 26. Photo: Bowie Verschuuren (handout)Bowie Verschuuren

CAMBRIDGE — When I say that bass-baritone Davóne Tines sang like an angel at his Celebrity Series of Boston Debut Series recital on Wednesday, I don’t mean it in the same sense that has been the mother of all cliches about singing since time immemorial. Pleasantly beatific voices are commonplace, and there is nothing commonplace about Tines — neither in what he sings, nor the way he sings it. In his voice there were fiery pillars and crackling skies, not harps and halos.

To say Tines sang like an angel feels true in another sense, too. “Angel” is rooted in the Hebrew word for “messenger.” Tines, a graduate of Harvard University, has made himself into a messenger in his own way as his career has blossomed: The programs he creates and curates typically carry messages that resonate both within and beyond their performance space. The core message of “RECITAL NO. 1: MASS,” which he brought to Longy School of Music’s Pickman Hall, was contained in the lyrics of the program’s final piece, “Vigil” by Tines and Igee Dieudonné: “Where there is darkness/ we’ll bring light/ hallelujah.”


The hourlong program did trace a journey from darkness to light, a well-trodden trajectory in the world of concert music but one that endures for good reason. Caroline Shaw’s miniature “Mass” was the program’s guiding star. Tines entered from the back of the hall, slowly moving toward the stage while intoning the first movement “Kyrie.” He soon joined pianist John Bitoy on stage to sing “Leave me, loathsome light,” which is often a comic tune in its original context in Handel’s “Semele” but here resounded with weary, poignant anguish. The words “WHAT ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT?” shone in stark capital letters on the large screen behind the performers at the rear of the stage.

The following movements of the unaccompanied “Mass” marked the program’s sections, each featuring its own question or epigraph on the screen. These sections were performed seamlessly, with no breaks for applause, and in a different order than churchgoers (or liturgical concertgoers) may have expected. The “Agnus Dei” section placed Margaret Bonds’s elegiac “To a Brown Girl, Dead” between two selections from “Songs for Death” by Tyshawn Sorey; the Sorey songs borrowed lyrics and rhythms from two traditional spirituals while replacing their comforting melodies with thorny, unsettling dissonances. Nevertheless, Tines embraced the deconstructed “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” melody as if singing the most soothing of hymns; whatever comfort remained in the song seemed to be for the singer alone.


As the program stretched toward the light, Tines unveiled several feats of vocalism, each more staggering than the last. His full-throated, spellbinding rendition of Moses Hogan’s arrangement of “Give Me Jesus” ended with a leap up to a quietly clarion high B flat, well into the tenor range. “Amen,” someone said in the balcony, and there was no stopping the cheers.

How could Tines follow that? He pulled it off with Julius Eastman’s a cappella “Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc,” a powerful minimalist invocation that demands both heaven-rending charisma and masterful control of both breath and pitch. Much of Eastman’s music was nearly lost following the composer’s 1990 death in poverty, but recent years have witnessed a revival of interest and performances and recordings to prove it. This “Prelude” could not ask for a better standard-bearer than Tines.


No one would have blamed him or Bitoy if they had chosen to skip the encore. However, they delivered not just an encore, but a suite — first with Tines unaccompanied, singing the first part of the bass solo from the final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (“Ode to Joy”), which morphed into “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” à la Lauryn Hill, and finally a medley of two traditional Black spirituals with Bitoy joining in. Hallelujah, indeed.


Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. At Pickman Hall, Longy School of Music of Bard College, Cambridge, April 26.

A.Z. Madonna can be reached at Follow her @knitandlisten.