Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Davóne Tines presents his song cycle Were You There, at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival

Bass-baritone Davóne Tines.

Bass-baritone Davóne Tines.

Get used to hearing the name Davóne Tines. The striking bass-baritone, who sings twice this weekend as part of the ongoing Rockport Chamber Music Festival, has made a profound musical impact wherever he has performed.

In Europe, realizing roles in as diverse settings as Kaija Saariaho’s opera “Only the Sound Remains,” and Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex.” In America, with starring roles in Matthew Aucoin’s “Crossing,” and dramatic appearances with the Calder Quartet. And onstage alone with a pianist, singing his riveting song cycle “Were You There,” which he will bring to the Shalin Liu Performance Stage in a revised arrangement Friday evening.

“The program is malleable,” he says about “Were You There.” “I’m still trying to introduce these songs, and then have them engage the audience.”

If you think this will be another evening with a singer standing next to a piano delivering art songs, think again. “Were You There” is a mix of spirituals and new music (by Aucoin). It commemorates black victims of police violence, and the centerpiece of the performance comes when Tines recites a litany of some their names. The stage will be set with dozens of bare light bulbs, which flicker on as the performance progresses. Some singing gets delivered with Tines lying on his back onstage.

The world premiere—last December, at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge—was an unforgettable affair. Not just for the emotional content of the material, but for the striking revelation that is Tines’s instrument. 

He’s a bass, with all the rich depth that implies. He’s also comfortable mid-range—most of “Were You There” sounds like he’s a tenor. And his falsetto voice—the highest range a male can deliver—sounds natural, facile and appealing. This is a once-in-a-generation instrument.

“I strive for a certain warmth and openness. I want to allow people to connect,” he says when asked about his sound. “I try for that, without sacrificing clarity. I want to convey warmth and richness, but never in a way that clouds communication.”

Tines conceived “Were You There” with pianist Michael Schachter, and they performed the world premiere. But for this version, they will be joined by the Rolston String Quartet (who will perform works by R. Murray Schafer and Tchaikovsky on the program as well).

“We just performed ‘Were You There’ at Big Ears,” Tines says, referring to the cross-genre festival in Knoxville. “There we did it with a chamber orchestra, and we had a different ending. 

“It’s a personal effort. It’s a pretty personal recital,” he says. “With the chamber orchestra it had an expanded sound palette, and now with Rolston we’ll decide on a new balance.”

Shifting to much different repertory, Tines sings songs by Jacques Ibert on Sunday afternoon with the ARC Ensemble. The popular string ensemble A Far Cry performs music of Glass, Bach, Bartok and Golijov on Saturday. 

The weekend also includes a free open rehearsal with Tines and the Rolston String Quartet on Thursday afternoon, and a late night cabaret on Friday. For complete information visit www.rockportmusic.org or call 978-546-7391. 

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