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A rising star bass-baritone returns to SF for Beethoven’s Ninth

Considering that he’s one of the classical music world’s most accomplished young artists, the Bay Area hasn’t heard nearly enough of Davóne Tines.
The 31-year-old bass-baritone made a big impression here a year ago, when he took on the role of Ned Peters in the San Francisco Opera’s world premiere production of John Adams’ “Girls of the Golden West.” His performance of the aria “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” — a setting of a speech by Frederick Douglass — was the riveting high point of Adams’ Gold Rush opera.

Now Tines is returning. In concerts Nov. 23-25 at Davies Hall, he’ll appear with the San Francisco Symphony in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. With Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the orchestra and San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Tines joins soprano Susanna Phillips, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor and tenor Nicholas Phan in Beethoven’s quartet of vocal soloists. Berg’s “Seven Early Songs” completes the program, which, like last week’s performances of Thomas’ “From the Diary of Anne Frank,” honors the 70th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This is Tines’ official S.F. Symphony debut, although he made a 2017 appearance in the Symphony’s SoundBox series, singing works by Shostakovich and Caroline Shaw.
In a call from New York, where he was about to appear in the U.S. premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s opera, “Only the Sound Remains,” at Lincoln Center’s White Lights Festival, Tines said he’s looking forward to returning.
“I find it personally important to sing things that one connects to and that are a further expansion of one’s own experience,” he said. “A lot of pieces I’ve been involved with have to do with the human condition.”
A 2009 graduate of Harvard University who earned his master’s at the Juilliard School of Music in 2013, Tines said that “Girls of the Golden West” was just such an experience – “a perfect alchemy, in a way, uniting the power of Douglass’ words with the context of the story. Especially in our current moment, politically and socially, that particular idea was an exhilarating context in which to put forth such strength.”
Beethoven’s Ninth, he said, also expresses deep human truths. “It kind of sets the context for this mold of the necessity for human connection – the joy that comes only from the connection from one human to another.”
He cites one of his favorite passages from the Ninth: ‘Deine Zauber binden wieder was die Mode streng geteilt” (Your magic binds together all that human custom has torn apart.) For Tines, those words are “an extreme proclamation exalting the connection that brings us all together.”
Born in Virginia, where he still resides, Tines heard the call of music early on. He studied piano and violin and fell in love with jazz and symphonic works. In high school, he sang musical theater roles and realized that singing was his future. Today, his powerful, eloquent bass-baritone is what Musical America has called “a Rolls Royce instrument.”
Tines, a recent recipient of Lincoln Center’s 2018 Emerging Artists Award, has a particular affinity for works by living composers. Adams and Shaw are favorites; so is Matthew Aucoin, whose “Crossing,” about the horrors of war, has featured Tines in repeat performances. “I really enjoy new music, especially when I get to build a relationship with the composer,” he said. “When you can explore the impetus for why it’s happening, there’s a clear and sustaining energy to engage in.”
In the coming months, Tines will return to Europe for Berlin performances of Adams’ Nativity oratorio, “El Nino,” and an Amsterdam revival of “Girls of the Golden West.” Both feature soprano Julia Bullock, who sang the role of Dame Shirley in the San Francisco premiere of “Girls.” Back in New York, he and Bullock will collaborate in a chamber version of “El Nino” and a song cycle based on poems by Langston Hughes.
On the day we spoke, he was immersed in Saariaho’s “Only the Sound Remains.” Having sung the Finnish composer’s opera in Helsinki, Amsterdam, Madrid and Paris, he says the score is unlike any other. “It’s very sparse,” he said. “There are only seven people in the pit, but there are so many layers to her sound world. You hear it as a kind of cloud, a certain density and atmosphere.”
Coming to Beethoven’s Ninth from Saariaho’s opera is a good transition, he added. “Her piece is very internal and very personal. In a way, going to Beethoven’s Ninth right after that is a sort of cathartic opening up. Instead of it being so internally raw, it’s a letting out of that feeling. It’s saying ‘let’s look at each other and look at what could be better.’”
Details: 8 p.m. Nov. 23-24, 2 p.m. Nov. 25; Davies Hall, S.F.; $89-$200; 415-864-6000; www.sfsymphony.org.
Contact Georgia Rowe at growe@pacbell.net.

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