Big, bulky and, well, challenging to carry much less play, the double bass is considered by some to be less glamorous than other instruments, adding harmony and texture but rarely capturing the spotlight of playing the melody.
Xavier Foley is turning that rather shallow notion on its musical ear. In a very short while, this young Georgian has popularized the double bass as a front-and-center instrument through his virtuosity and passion for music. In the process, he’s also establishing himself as an innovative composer for his instrument — as will be evident when he participates in New West Symphony’s “Masters of Melody” concerts October 1 and 2.
“Xavier Foley is creating unique melodies on the double bass,” says Michael Christie, NWS Music Director and Conductor. “He has transformed his instrument from one usually utilized as a background or supporting instrument into something very unique and powerful.”
Even though, in Xavier Foley’s case, the double bass is smaller than the standard size.
“My double bass is smaller, around half the size of a full bass which is huge,” he says, smiling. “A lot of people don’t play them because they’re that big, but for those who can, they can really shake the floor.”
Which is what often happens when Xavier plays his double bass, which he tunes as much as a whole step up or down from normal to fit the piece and sound he seeks. “It has solo and orchestral strings,” he explains. “The top string solo, the bottom orchestral. It’s like a hybrid car; when I have to, I can turn on the gas.”
It is an instrument Xavier has played to appreciative audiences at some of America’s more important concert venues (including Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center) and with some of the country’s leading orchestras (Atlanta and Philadelphia among them). His talent has also earned him numerous honors, including first prizes at the 2011 International Society of Bassists Competition, Astral’s 2014 National Auditions, the Sphinx Organization’s 2014 Competition, and the 2016 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, as well as the 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant.
A native of Marietta, Georgia, Xavier is an alumnus of New York’s Perlman Music Program, and earned his Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music. Skilled in chamber and orchestral work, he was co-commissioned in 2019 by Carnegie Hall and the Sphinx Organization to compose “For Justice and Peace” for violin, bass, and string orchestra.
Premiered at Carnegie Hall, “For Justice and Peace” was created to mark 400 years since slavery began in America with the arrival of Africans aboard the English ship White Lion in Hampton, Virginia, in August 1619. While the theme alone commands the listener’s attention, Xavier’s creativity in structuring “For Justice and Peace” is also striking — literally so, since it has a gavel, used as a narrative element.
As one who embraces “different influences” in his music, Xavier utilizes African spirituals, R&B and Latin American rhythms in “For Justice and Peace,” as well as creating tension with “a lot of dissonant passages in the theme.”
For “Masters of Melody,” Foley will perform the “Chorus” section of his own composition, “Soul Bass,” as well as Giovanni Bottesini’s “Double Bass Concerto No. 2 in B Minor.” He will also participate with Christie and Jorge Herrera of Hermanos Herrera in the “Hear and Now” discussion offered to audiences one hour ahead of each concert.
The diversity of music and composers offered in “Masters of Melody” resonates with Xavier’s own views about the role music and art can play in uniting people of diverse backgrounds and tastes.
“What’s great about music,” he says, “is that we’re able to translate how we feel. And it’s great that we’re having a conversation about the role of music and how it can be a little more diverse and can give voice who haven’t necessarily been given a voice.”
“The audience,” he continues, “can now appreciate a lot of different styles and a lot of different points of view. Maybe in the future we’ll start seeing different people in the audience, more audience members in general, and more ticket sales. A lot of great things can happen.”