Rockport Music presented a personable Xavier Foley at Shalin Liu Performance Center Sunday afternoon in a memorable encounter. The marriage of the 2016 graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music from Marietta, Georgia and the hefty double bass in a mostly solo concert would beg a stretch of the imagination, that is, until you were there in the midst of this eye-catching pair. The inquisitive ear found abundant reason to listen on.
From the uncomplicated Vivaldi to the complicated Bach and from the technically challenging Bottesini to the affecting creations of Foley, a truly rare meeting surprisingly drew quite a crowd and reaction. The Marietta boy and the Curtis musician also imparted meaningful values at a time our divided country earnestly strives toward inclusion.
Foley performed six of his own compositions, several of them lyrical beyond expectations of what can be accomplished on so cumbersome an instrument. His closer, Bottesini’s Fantasia on La Sonnambula, meant fireworks, entertaining as much as amazing with the remarkably agile double bassist covering his instrument’s entire fingerboard. Suite No. 5 in C Minor for unaccompanied cello of J.S. Bach, transposed for double bass, baffled with Foley’s extravagant juxtapositions.
The original view of the double bass as doubling another instrument continues to evolve, case in point Foley. Unlike jazz bassists who usually drop the “double” part of the instrument’s moniker, Foley preserves that classical relationship that is his, even in his own work, Etude No. 11: The Singer. Cluing us in, he had this to say: “It is just what an etude is to be, “R&B in the classical style for double bass.” Its soulful melody, you might find yourself later whistling, embedded in a luxuriously contoured improvised-like arrangement could very well have been the hit of the day.
The inquisitive ear discovered bundles from Xavier Foley. His take on Bach did stretch the imagination, though to a breaking point. Perhaps not so strange, Pierre Boulez’s Third Piano Sonata came to mind where the performer freely chooses between this or that fragment coming next, sounds and silences verging on equal. Inarguably, drama surfaced with some of the many silent spaces. Following the linear aspect of Bach’s writing became elusive with Foley’s imaginative play. One example being his echoing of phrases, some being so soft as to appear from another place (such as in the Boulez whose range of amplitude worked the extremes).
The acoustics of the Shalin Liu Performance Center and Foley’s double bass were a match made in heaven. Sighing strings mourned in another Foley original, Lost Child. Lower, drawn-out strings countering upper, gigue-ing strings made for real drama in the encore, another original, his Irish Fantasy on the “Clergy’s Lamentation.” His Latin Paradise and his Rockport commission Changes reported a similar feel: “I used to live in North Bergen, New Jersey, which is a Latin-American neighborhood. All I heard was Latin-American music. So, Latin Paradise shows my classical background and training mixed with my experience in North Bergen.” Vivaldi’s Cello Sonata No. 1 in B-flat Major, transposed for double bass and piano seemed an odd entry. The sparse piano, its toy-piano-sounding high notes, distracted.
As an entrepreneur, Xavier Foley runs a website where various offerings include his own original compositions, handmade French and German bows, shirts designed with treble and bass clefs, and even a schedule for signing up for bass lessons.
Xavier Foley won the 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant, the 2016 Young Concert Artists Competition, and the 2014 Sphinx Competition. He has played as soloist with the Atlanta, Philadelphia and Nashville Orchestras.