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Arts and Entertainment Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020 2 years ago

Xavier Foley expands double bass's musical territory

During Artist Series Concerts recital, he demonstrates level of versatility usually associated with smaller instruments
by: Edward Alley Contributor

Xavier Foley is both a double bass virtuoso and an artist.  He plays that behemoth of the string family not only like a cello, but a cello as played by one of the greats. Think Janos Starker, Rostropovich or your favorite solo cellist.

    In his recital this past Sunday, January 12th, at the Historic Asolo Theater,  presented by the Artist Series Concerts, he absolutely mesmerized the audience with his outstanding control and musical taste.

    Foley plays a smaller instrument than the full-size double basses we usually see in a symphony orchestra, primarily because so much of the solo repertoire, or that transcribed for solo, lies so high that one just has to be able to reach over the instrument to play all those notes. Obviously, Foley and his instrument, crafted by Rumano Solano, are very special friends, because when he plays, they become one entity.

     He began with a transcription of the Mozart E Minor Violin Sonata, which opened the eyes and ears of the audience with his solid technique, spot-on intonation, and lovely lyrical sound. It made such a strong impression on the audience that they broke into spontaneous applause after most every movement — often considered a no-no, but for this audience it was a yes-yes.

    Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata completed the first half. The arpeggione is an  instrument more like a six-string bass guitar that is bowed rather than plucked.  It was out of fashion even when Schubert wrote the piece, so it has been transcribed for viola, cello and other instruments.  This is the first time I had ever heard it played on a double bass.  The sound actually fits the piece quite well, and Foley’s concept of the piece and phrasing made it a real musical treat.

    Foley also writes for his instrument, and we heard two of his works: the “Irish Rhapsody” for solo bass, and his suite “On the Move” for bass and piano.  The Irish Rhapsody takes its theme from an Irish tune, which he told us he first heard as a background in a video game he was playing. (Video games were/are a big part of his inspiration.) It is a real tour-de-force for the instrument, filled with rapidly moving passages, harmonics, double stops, octaves, and more, which would seem impossible on that instrument.

Along with adapting works written for other instruments, Foley also writes original music for the double bass, two of which he performed at his recital at the Historic Asolo Theatre (Courtesy photo)

    “On the Move,” this time inspired by some pop rock songs, showed his versatility as a composer as well as a performer, with a smattering of blues, some pizzicato jazz bass and lyrical melodies all nicely grouped together.

    Throughout the concert he was ably paired with pianist Kelly Lin, who was  a supportive and equal partner, both technically and musically.

    Gliere’s virtuosic “Intermezzo and Tarantella” was the final selection, and it was a fitting final showcase for Foley’s immense talent. The Intermezzo was lyrical and beautifully phrased, and the blatant razzle-dazzle of the Tarantella was an exciting example of a real performing genius at his best.  And this young virtuoso is only 25 years old. What a future lies in store for him.

    Many, many years ago I considered myself a double bass player, since that was my major instrument early on. After listening to Foley’s playing today, I  really wanted to change that statement to, “I thought I was a bass player, until I heard Foley.” Yes, dear readers, he really was that outstanding.  It was quite an afternoon!

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Edward Alley is a conductor, former manager of the NY Philharmonic, associate director of the Juilliard Opera Center and director of the MBRockefeller Fund for Music. He succeeds his wife, the late June LeBell, as producer/host of SILL’s Music Mondays.

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