Composer Xavier Foley urges other young talents to follow their dreams

While growing up in Georgia, Xavier Foley thought he had two choices in life: play football or create rap music. “It was definitely not a thing for people like me to play classical music back then.”

Foley found a different career path. Now 27, he is an award-winning bassist and composer, whose work Good Times, will receive its world premiere at the next CSO MusicNOW concert on Nov. 21. A MusicNOW commission, Good Times anchors a program with two other Foley pieces, Irish Fantasy and Etude No. 10 (The Dance), along with two works by roots music virtuoso Mark O’Connor, String Quartet No. 3 and Strings and Threads Suite. Foley and O’Connor also will perform with CSO musicians at the concert.

The winner of a 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant, a Paiko Foundation Fellowship, the 2016 Young Concert Artists Auditions, the 2014 Sphinx Competition, among other honors, Foley graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in 2016; he encourages other budding musical talents to forget their doubts and forge ahead. “Don't worry about it, that is what I say,” he said in a recent interview. That philosophy is working. Last month, his For Justice and Peace received its premiere by the Sphinx Organization at Carnegie Hall. 

Instead of the violin or piano, he chose to study the bass, a versatile but often foundational instrument. “I just liked how it could be used to play jazz, classical, rock and anything in between,” he said in an interview conducted for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. “Make sure you sing on your instrument; that is what it’s about.”

Like many classical musicians of his generation, he feels at home in many styles. “I tend to think of musical genres as a branding function; certain sound bites are assigned a specific name,” he said. When I write something, my goal is to create diverse feelings that in the end create a musical story line. So I don't necessarily lean toward a specific genre, but rather, I use musically branded material created in the past to help me create new combinations of sound.”

It all comes down to emotion. “Music makes me feel a certain way,” he said. “I try to communicate feelings to the audience.”