Bassist Owen Lee spends a majority of his time with Dumbo, but he doesn’t worry about him flying away — it’s just the name of his instrument. Although their relationship falls short of friendship, he admitted a certain respect.
“There’s an affection there because you spend a lot time with this hunk of wood,” Lee said. “It’s not, ‘Oh, get the bass out of the car.’ It’s, ‘Get Dumbo out of the car.’ ”
French composer Camille Saint-Saëns effectively typecast that role after calling upon the double bass to depict an elephant in a solo for “Carnival of the Animals.” That fact, combined with mutual love for the Disney movie, made the name an obvious choice for Lee and his wife.
Lee, Dumbo and guest conductor Case Scaglione make their Amphitheater debut with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. tonight. The program includes Zoltán Kodály’s “Háry János” Suite and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 in D major, Op. 60, with Lee’s performance of Giovanni Bottesini Concerto No. 1 for Double Bass, F-sharp minor sandwiched in between.
Although Lee is a member of the CSO, this marks his first solo performance in Chautauqua. He did, however, make his solo debut playing the same Bottesini concerto with another CSO — the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra — in 1998.
“We’re kind of old friends,” Lee said of the piece.
A double bass solo offers a fresh flavor amid a season filled with violin and piano virtuosos. Lee said tonight grants an opportunity to demonstrate the range of his instrument — usually relegated to the rear of the orchestra — that goes beyond the oafish quality imbued by the instrument’s low voice and intimidating scale.
“The double bass is characterized as the fat, old man — kind of the old grandpa. Listeners will pick up on that,” Lee said.
For Scaglione, tonight’s performance will break away from his normal role as associate conductor for the New York Philharmonic. He said his mission tonight — and every night — is to get the audience to feel as passionately about music as he does.
“I’ve always felt an obligation that, if something truly moved me — quite to the irritation of my friends and people who love me — my most natural form of expression is sharing those experiences with other people,” Scaglione said.
He said this is the case for food, movies, music and everything else all the same. If it’s good, it deserves to be shared — although, he said, a million things worth sharing compete for a person’s attention at any given moment in 2015.
“I don’t think it’s enough anymore to make music earnestly and honestly and to love music,” Scaglione said.
Part of the solution to that problem involves presenting a compelling package. In the case of an orchestra concert, a haphazardly selected program can end up leaving a bad taste in the audience’s mouth.
“I love filet mignon, but, if somebody served me Rocky Road ice cream for a first course, I would probably not love it as much,” he said.
Thankfully, Scaglione said, tonight’s program delivers a satisfying menu of Slavic offerings alongside a main course in the Bottesini double bass concerto.
All that’s left for him to do, he said, is to step on the podium and encourage the music to spring forth with passion and without effort.
“This is the hardest thing about being a human being — I think it’s just more pronounced in conducting,” he said. “We do all of this study, we’ve learned all these lines of music, and so much information is being processed, but when it’s all said and done, we have to let all of that academia go and be right here, right now. That is the hardest thing in the world because that is a very Buddhist, pacifist experience of sort of allowing the moment to move you and allowing the music to go through you.”