“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

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 and Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Symphony, the National Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, the Saint Louis Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Baltimore 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, Susanna Mälkki, 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.

The Instrument

“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.  József 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

The 2018-19 season had several meaningful highlights, including performances of Scheherazade.2 with The Cleveland Orchestra in November 2018 and the Baltimore Symphony in March 2019. In February, Chester performed a series of recitals with violinist Vijay Gupta, a 2018 MacArthur Fellow and the Founder/Artistic Director of Street Symphony, an organization wholly devoted to “powerful engagements between professional and emerging artists and communities disenfranchised by homelessness and incarceration in Los Angeles County”. Through Street Symphony, Chester and Vijay performed at the Men’s Central Jail and the Midnight Mission in Skid Row, as well as a full recital at the Skid Row Museum and Archive.

The 2019-20 season was very exciting, starting with a performance and recording of Saint Elizabeth’s Bells by Kati Agócs with cellist Nick Diodore of the new music ensemble No Exit. This was followed by performances of Scheherazade.2 with violinist Leila Josefowicz and the Rochester Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. In January Chester performed Scheherazade.2 with the Oregon Symphony,  followed by performances of Bartók’s Rhapsody #1 for Violin and Orchestra with violinist Jun Iwasaki and the Nashville Symphony.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Chester remained active both in performance and planning for the future. In March 2020, Chester and his wife, violinist Rachel Englander, performed a program to raise money for their fellow local musicians in Cleveland, OH. The program included music of Bach, Szálkák for solo cimbalom by György Kurtág, and Ravel’s Tzigane. In June 2020, Chester performed the World Premiere of Michelangelo Fragments by Joseph Pereira, commissioned by American Composers Orchestra. He also performed Ragtime by Igor Stravinsky with the Louisville Orchestra in October 2020.

With the return to live performance during the 2021-22 season, Chester premiered two new works including cimbalom with Cleveland’s No Exit chamber ensemble: Ecstatic Waves for cimbalom and string quartet by Douglas Knehans, and …tears… yet far yet near… for cimbalom and mixed ensemble by Hong-Da Chin. These works were premiered in April 2022 and will be recorded for commercial release in June 2022.

The 2022-23 season has several exciting upcoming events: the recent premiere of Antony and Cleopatra by John Adams with the San Francisco Opera, a recording of Háry János Suite with the Buffalo Philharmonic in November 2022, a performance of Messages of the late Miss R.V. Troussova by György Kurtág at the Bard College Kurtág Festival in February 2023, and a week of engagements with violinist Vijay Gupta for the Worcester Arts Council in March 2023, including a recital at the famed Mechanics Hall.  Chester will also premiere a new solo for cimbalom by Sakari Dixon Vanderveer, a commission supported by a grant from New Music USA.

“Adams’s score is a miraculous summation of the best of his work over the last 30-plus years. The syncopation, swirling winds, ominous brass, and sinister percussion are all characteristic. Antony’s orchestra has its own special coloration, incorporating a quartet of instruments whose sound permeates the whole opera: two harps, a celesta (think sugar plum fairies), and a cimbalom, a card table-sized hammered dulcimer (think Igor Stravinsky’s Ragtime). The cimbalom, unusual in a Western orchestra, is most closely associated with the scenes in Egypt. Special kudos for their great work to Chester Englander on cimbalom, Laura Poe on celesta, and harpists Annabelle Taubl and Jieyin Wu.” -“Antony and Cleopatra Scores Triumph in SF Opera Debut”, Lisa Hirsch for San Francisco Classical Voice (9/12/2022)


Chester was able to premiere the complete Michelangelo Fragments for solo cimbalom by Joseph Pereira in 2021 via video for the Hear Now Music Festival of Los Angeles:


In January 2022, Chester had the pleasure of making two videos with violinist Vijay Gupta at the Wende Museum in Culver City, CA:

György Kurtág: Acht Duos for violin and cimbalom 

Arvo Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel 

György Kurtág: Szálkák (Splinters)


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 #1 for violin and orchestra – 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