We’re chatting with Cincinnati Symphony principal bassist Owen Lee today on Contrabass Conversations. Owen played for the New World Symphony and the Houston Symphony prior to his appointment with the Cincinnati Symphony, and it was a real pleasure to do this interview along with Contrabass Conversations regular collaborator John Grillo.
John, Owen, and I chat about Owen’s early years on the bass, his experiences working with Ed Barker, Jakstadt double basses, and perspectives from the bass section and a principal position. We also feature music the first movement from the Misek Sonata No. 2 and the Gigue from the Cello Suite No. 3 by Johann Sebastian Bach from Owen’s Boston Records CD, plus Facebook group shout-outs, listener feedback, bass news, and a link of the week.
Described as “a true virtuoso” by legendary pianist Gary Graffman and praised by The New York Times for his “deft and virtuosic solo performance” at his New York debut at Alice Tully Hall, double bassist Owen Lee has earned acclaim as a soloist, chamber musician and since 1996, at the age of 26, as Principal Bass of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Lee is heard regularly as a soloist with orchestras including the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Paavo Järvi and Jesús López-Cobos, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under John Harbison, and the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson-Thomas in Miami and on tour to New York’s Lincoln Center. During the 2006-07 season, Mr. Lee and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, along with a consortium of other soloists and orchestras, will present the world premiere of John Harbison’s Concerto for Bass Viol and Orchestra.
Mr. Lee’s prizes in competitions include First Prize at the 1995 International Society of Bassists Competition and Fourth Prize at the 1992 Irving M. Klein International String Competition in San Francisco. He has been presented in recitals throughout the United States, and in Geneva.
For the Boston Records label, he has recorded the Misek Sonata No. 2 and Bach Unaccompanied Suites No. 3 and No. 5. American Record Guide praised this disc for its “tasteful phrasing, polish and verve” while The Strad wrote “Owen Lee is a fine player with strong musical ideas. A dark and austere sound is produced for Suite No. 5 and the architecture of each suite is carefully considered and shaped. I look forward to his next recording.”
Mr. Lee’s extensive international chamber music experience includes three summers as the bassist of the Marlboro Festival. While there, he performed extensively with such artists as Richard Stoltzman, Midori, Nobuko Imai, Bruno Canino, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and members of the Beaux Arts Trio, Guarneri Quartet and Juilliard Quartet. He also collaborated with composers Gyorgy Kurtag, Leon Kirchner and Richard Danielpour preparing performances of those composers’ works.
Mr. Lee has also performed with the Tokyo String Quartet on tour to Mexico, John Browning, Anne-Marie McDermott, Jaime Laredo, Ida Kavafian, Steven Tenenbom, Peter Wiley, Eugenia Zukerman, the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, San Diego’s Mainly Mozart Festival, Ojai California Festival, Chamber Music L.A. Festival, Tanglewood Festival, Texas Music Festival, and on tour throughout China. With the Rossetti String Quartet he performed the world premiere of Melinda Wagner’s Concertino at the 2005 Bravo! Vail Festival.
Mr. Lee was born in Berkeley, California in 1969 to Chinese parents. He began playing bass at age 15 after previous study of the piano. A graduate of the University of Southern California, Mr. Lee’s principal teachers were Dennis Trembly, Edwin Barker and Paul Ellison.
Prior to his appointment in Cincinnati, Mr. Lee was a member of the Houston Symphony under Christoph Eschenbach. In addition to his position with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Lee serves as Principal Bass of the Shanghai Festival Orchestra.
Owen is married to CiCi Lee. He enjoys bicycling, snowboarding, cigars, auto repair and playing drums and writing songs with his rock band Toe (Eric Bates, CSO 2nd Assistant Concertmaster is Toe’s guitarist and lead singer, and Ted Nelson, CSO cellist is Toe’s bassist).