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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Hear young Georgia musicians ‘From the Top’ this weekend

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Flautist Hally Davidson, from McDonough, and pianist Bryan Anderson, from Stockbridge, rehearsed before appearing on NPR's "From the Top," at Emory University in November. AJC/Jason Getz

I’m going to post about last night’s “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” show at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre later today, but as it turns out, Atlanta is kind of a public radio darling this weekend. Local musicians that performed at a live recording of “From the Top” last month will show up on the airwaves this weekend, too.

Those of you who attended the show already know what’s coming from the young performers on stage. For the rest of us, AJCer Bo Emerson wrote this story about how they managed to fit “prodigy” into their schedules. The story appeared in Sunday’s AJC, but hasn’t yet appeared online.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in performances by local youth orchestras, keep an eye on the AccessAtlanta.com calendar listings. There are several holiday concerts coming up!

Till the, here it is, “Young musicians master classical works”

Xavier Foley, 15, is shorter than the instrument he is playing, but somehow this Marietta teen makes music on his double bass leap and spin like a Russian gymnast.

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Xavier Foley appeared on "From the Top."

He’s zipping through Giovanni Bottesini’s Concerto No. 2 in B minor, a piece rippling with runs and high-register fireworks. It is a bravura solo showcase, the opposite of the stolid background role to which the bass is usually relegated.

Navigating these high-speed curves is an accomplishment for any bassist — the wild-haired Bottesini was considered unplayable not so long ago. The fact that Foley has mastered the piece before he can legally drive is even more impressive.

And then there’s the fact that he’s playing it in front of a full concert hall and a national radio audience. “He’s never been nervous, ” said his father, Anthony Foley, a Cobb County middle school teacher. “I don’t know how he gets in front of those crowds of people and just plays.”

“It was fun, ” the son said later.

Xavier was one of three metro Atlanta teenagers performing recently at Emory University’s Schwartz Center, during a taping of “From the Top, ” a National Public Radio program that shows off young classical musicians to a national audience. In Atlanta, the program will air three times in the next week, beginning Dec. 13 at 2 p.m. on WABE, 90.1 FM.

The youngsters and their colleagues from elsewhere played the music of Liszt, Brahms and Widor, then chatted on-air with host Christopher O’Riley, answering questions about the sketchy pianos they must play when visiting retirement homes (they call them “piano-shaped objects”), about high school studies and the life of a young prodigy.

Richard Prior, director of the pre-college Emory Youth Symphony Orchestra, which also performed, is accustomed to hearing youngsters with outsized talent. But this group astounded even him.

“It was shock and awe, ” said the transplanted Englishman.

O’Riley, in his 10th year helming the show, complimented the talent pool in Atlanta on the air. Afterward, he said he wasn’t just being polite and pointed out that the show has come to Atlanta five times to tape local musicians.

He credits the city’s excellent teachers, youth symphonies and public schools where string programs are still being taught.

One also might offer a nod to parents such as Anthony Foley, who drive their kids to lessons, take out second mortgages to buy excellent instruments and drive or fly to competitions up and down the east coast.

While Xavier’s choice of instruments came out of the blue, Hally Davidson, 15, of McDonough, said she began playing the flute to copy her mother. A kindergartner at the time, Hally had arms too short to play a full-size instrument, so they found a flute with a curved head-joint.

Today, the home-schooled teen practices flute about two hours a day, plus another hour on piano to stay sharp for her keyboard responsibilities during weekly worship at The Rock Presbyterian Church in nearby Stockbridge.

At Emory, she performed with her regular accompanist, Bryan Anderson, 16, of Stockbridge. Their parents have been friends since the two were in nursery school, and Hally and Bryan have been performing together almost as long.

After dashing telepathically through Charles-Marie Widor’s Suite for Flute and Piano, opus 34, they answered some gentle questions from their host, O’Riley, who is not only an accomplished pianist, but a witty interrogator.

The duo revealed that they frequently converse in German, particularly if they want to keep something secret from others.

“What do you say?” O’Riley asked.

“Insults mostly” Bryan said.

“Say something mellifluous and insulting to me.”

Bryan called him a bonehead — “eine trottel” — but in the nicest way.

Xavier performed his concerto with O’Riley as his accompanist. Show producer Tom Voegli cautioned the young musicians, “You do not have to make eye contact with Chris. In fact, I recommend you don’t, because he makes all kinds of horrible faces.”

In addition to the local musicians, Ming Wilson, a 14-year-old pianist from Johnson City, Tenn., played part of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, and returning performer Melissa White, 25, who appeared on the show in its second season, played Brahms Sonata No. 3 in D minor on violin.

There were nerves, but not in evidence.

“They all did a fabulous job keeping it cool, ” said Hally’s mother, Ginny Davidson. “They supported each other in the green room above and beyond the call of duty.”

Want to listen? The episode of “From the Top” featuring Atlanta artists, taped last month at Emory University, can be heard in Atlanta on Dec. 13 at 2 p.m. on WABE 90.1 FM and Dec. 14 at 1 p.m. online at WABE Classical  and Dec. 13 at 1 p.m. on Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Hally Davidson, 15, flute, McDonough

Education: Home-schooled, though she studies German with an outside tutor.

Played since: Kindergarten.

Other musical interests: Plays piano for her church.

Outside of music: Fascinated with “Lord of the Rings.” Speaks Elvish.

On growing up: “I grew an eighth of an inch in the last two years. I hope my lung capacity changes because right now I need a pump.”

On practicing: “Some people can practice for long amounts of time and get better. For me, I’m utterly exhausted at the end of two hours. I can’t do it anymore.”

Possible career: May consider veterinary medicine as well as music. Sits in on surgeries at a local veterinarian clinic, where she helps out after school.

Bryan Anderson, 16, piano, Stockbridge, a senior at New Creation Christian Academy, McDonough.

Education: Home-schooled until high school.

Played since: Age 4.

Other musical interests: Practices organ three days a week at two different churches. Next year will audition on organ at several different conservatories.

Why keyboards? “I did play flute for a good while, I just hate having to play only one note at a time. I need harmony.”

On accompanying his string-playing siblings: “I’m like the community lackey accompanist.”

On practicing shorter, but smarter: “You just have to get to what you need to. Just try to maximize it and get a lot out of every time you play it through.”

Xavier Foley, 15, a sophomore at Pope High School, Marietta

Played bass violin since: Sixth grade.

Other musical interests: Played piano since age 8.

Why bass? “I’m not good with playing two voices at once, I’m only good at one voice. … The piano was like doing the Olympics and a math competition at the same time.”

Why not another stringed instrument? “I thought violin was for girls and cello was just too scratchy.”

What conservatory does he favor? “Curtis. The big guys are there.”

Pop music interests: Biggie Smalls, Snoop Dogg.

Where did his talent come from? “I have no idea, ” says his dad, Anthony Foley.

His instrument: A Rumano Solano.

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