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Cimbalom

“Chester Englander is a master of all percussion instruments, but his really special and unique gift to the world is his cimbalom playing. He has brought a new level of facility and virtuosity to the instrument, a new level of tonal color and command that brings cimbalom playing to a whole new level. Having worked with him many, many times with John Adams’ work Scheherazade.2, I can’t imagine a more conscientious colleague who truly loves making music and is also a joy to be around.” -Leila Josefowicz
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Chester with John Adams enjoying the applause after the World Premiere of Scheherazade.2.

Chester Englander also performs as a specialist on the cimbalom. He has performed on cimbalom with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and New Music Group, the San Francisco Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony, the Saint Louis Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Rochester Philharmonic, the Oregon Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the New World Symphony. He has performed under the baton of a considerable list of conductors, including David Robertson, Franz Welser-Möst, Peter Oundjian, Michael Tilson-Thomas, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Gustavo Dudamel, Alan Gilbert, John Adams, JoAnn Falletta, Jeffrey Kahane, Pablo Heras-Casado, Reinbert De Leeuw, and Peter Eötvös.

“Adding exotic color to the orchestral palette are various-sized gongs and a prominent obbligato part for cimbalom, a kind of hammered dulcimer, whose metallic clangor lends a threatening undercurrent to the violin-orchestra discourse. Chester Englander, Adams’ cimbalomist of choice, dispatched the part wonderfully well.” -John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune 3/3/2017

The cimbalom (sim-bah-lohm) is a Hungarian concert dulcimer that can trace its origins to the ancient Babylonian santur.  The instrument has taken on many forms during its nomadic path from Mesopotamia across the Silk Road to as far away as China.  Examples of these are the santoor (India), the tsymbaly (Russia, Ukraine),the yang qin (China), and the hackbrett (Germany, Austria).

Chester warming up on stage with the LA Phil before a performance of Háry János Suite.

The cimbalom was introduced in Hungary by their Jewish population. It was embraced by the Roma (Gypsy) people, who incorporated it into their original music throughout Eastern Europe.  Jószef Schunda introduced the first pedal-dampened concert-range cimbalom with legs in 1874 and engineered the first chromatic system of strings. Schunda taught many others the art of building cimbaloms, including his prize student Lajos Bohák.  Bohák made changes in the soundboard design that allowed for greater resonance and stability of tuning.  Chester performs on two outstanding, modern cimbaloms built by Balázs Kovács, the latest master builder to emerge from Bohák’s workshop.

“While the orchestral playing is as ravishing as listeners have come to expect from Morlot and Seattle, the soloists brought in from outside the band are among the very hottest players on their respective instruments… The cimbalom playing of percussionist Chester Englander lends an unexpected delight to Mystère de l’instant.” -CD review by WQXR-FM (NYC) 8/8/2016

In 2011-12, Chester had the distinct honor of directly collaborating with John Adams on the composition and performance of the featured cimbalom part for the World Premiere of John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary with Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic in May/June 2012, as well as joining the L.A. Philharmonic for their European Tour to perform the cimbalom part for the staged version of Adams’ Gospel in Luzern, Paris, London and New York City.

Chester performing as Solo Cimbalom for the World Premiere of John Adams’ Scheherazade.2 with Leila Josefowicz and the New York Philharmonic.

The 2014-15 season had several highlights:  Chester reprised the solo cimbalom part to Háry János Suite with the Rochester Philharmonic in October 2014.  Additionally, Chester performed as cimbalom soloist for the U.S. Premiere of da capo for cimbalom and ensemble by Peter Eötvös, with the composer as conductor of the New World Symphony in April 2015.  Chester had the honor of collaborating on another featured cimbalom part with John Adams, this time for Mr. Adams’ new violin concerto, Scheherazade.2.  Chester joined violinist Leila Josefowicz and the New York Philharmonic for the World Premiere of Scheherazade.2 in March 2015, and he reprised his role as Solo Cimbalom with the Cincinnati Symphony and Atlanta Symphony in April and May 2015.

During Summer 2015, Chester had two exciting engagements on the cimbalom: he performed with the Chicago Symphony playing the music from Gladiator live with the film, as well as reprising the solo cimbalom part to Háry János Suite at the Chautauqua Music Festival. He followed these engagements with performances of Háry János Suite with the St. Louis Symphony for their Gala Opening week of the 2015-16 season.

In February 2016, Chester performed Scheherazade.2 with the St. Louis Symphony and recorded the work for Nonesuch Records. March 2016 included a recording of Black City by Douglas Knehans with the University of Louisville orchestra, a set of performances of Scheherazade.2 with the Seattle Symphony, and a debut on cimbalom with The Cleveland Orchestra on the U.S. premiere of Petite musique solennelle-en hommage à Pierre Boulez 90 by Kurtág. Chester followed that with another week of Scheherazade.2 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in April 2016. He then returned to Seattle to join the SSO for a recording of Mystere de la Instant by Henri Dutilleux. In May 2016, he made his Canadian debut, performing Scheherazade.2 with Peter Oundjian and the Toronto Symphony in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. Chester was excited to make his cimbalom debut at the Strings Music Festival in Steamboat Springs, CO, performing Monti’s Csárdás, the Adagio from Sonata in G-minor BWV 1001 by J.S. Bach, and a newly arranged cimbalom accompaniment to Ravel’s Tzigane with violin soloist Chee-Yun in June 2016.

The 2016-17 season is has been exciting, with performances of The Gospel According to Other Mary and Scheherazade.2 with the San Francisco Symphony to celebrate John Adams’ 70th birthday, and performances of Other Mary with the Saint Louis Symphony, including a performance at Carnegie Hall. Chester performed Scheherazade.2 in October 2016 with the Minnesota Orchestra, in March 2017 with the Chicago Symphony, and returns to St. Louis in April 2017 to perform Jerusalem (after Blake) by Georges Lentz.

The 2017-18 season is already taking shape, with performances of the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy with the Chicago Symphony at Ravinia in August 2017, performances of Scheherazade.2 with the Iceland Symphony in October 2017 and the Boston Symphony in March 2018, and performances of The Gospel According to the Other Mary with the National Symphony in February 2018.

During Chester’s week with the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra in September 2016, he was asked to film a short video featuring the cimbalom:

Film Credit: Joel Luks/CKP Group

Mystère de l’instant with the Seattle Symphony, featuring Chester as the cimbalom soloist:

Selected repertoire with cimbalom:

The Gospel According to the Other Mary – John Adams
Scheherazade.2 – John Adams
La Giró – Louis Andriessen
La Passione – Louis Andriessen
Racconto dall’ inferno – Louis Andriessen
Rhapsody for violin and orchestra #1 – Béla Bartók
Eclat/Multiples  – Pierre Boulez
Répons – Pierre Boulez
La Plus Que Lente – Claude Debussy
L’arbre des songes – Henri Dutilleux   
Mystère de l’instant – Henri Dutilleux
da capo – Peter Eötvös
Psy – Peter Eötvös
Háry János Suite – Zoltán Kodály
Doppelkonzert – György Kurtág
8 Duos for Violin and Cimbalom – György Kurtág
Grabstein für Stephan – György Kurtág
In Memory of a Winter Evening – György Kurtág
Messages of the Late RV Troussova – György Kurtág
…quasi una fantasia…– György Kurtág
Scenes From a Novel – György Kurtág
7 Songs for Soprano and Cimbalom – György Kurtág
Stele – György Kurtág
Tre Pezzi/ Tre Altri Pezzi – György Kurtág
5 Animated Shorts – Steve Mackey
Der Ferne Klang – Franz Schreker
Ragtime – Igor Stravinsky
Renard – Igor Stravinsky