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National Symphony Orchestra > Posts > What’s That On Stage? The Cimbalom!
What’s That On Stage? The Cimbalom!
Posted by Cynthia Steele

On stage at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, you've seen the violin, the trumpet, and the flute in a National Symphony Orchestra concert – just to name a few. But occasionally we have an instrument with the NSO that you may not have seen on our stage before. This week is an example of that – as part of our concerts this week, the instrumentation for Kodály's Suite from Háry János calls for an instrument called the cimbalom.

The cimbalom is a Hungarian instrument, similar to a hammered dulcimer. We've been fascinated with the cimbalom this week since the moment it arrived.

Our crew did indeed handle it with dignity, as they carefully unpacked it in the Green Room:

It needed some assembly upon arrival:

The Stage Crew carefully unpacked the legs:

And attached them to the instrument itself:


We think it's a beautiful instrument with a great sound! Look for it this weekend, on the left when you are looking at the stage (see the blue arrow on our stage plot below):


So who plays this amazing instrument? Meet Laurence Kaptain, one of the most distinguished performers of the cimbalom. We asked him a few questions to get to know him before his performances with the NSO:

How long have you been playing the cimbalom?  

A little more than 30 years.

How were you first introduced to the instrument?  

I grew up in Elgin, Illinois, an outer suburb of Chicago that had a small, closely knit Hungarian community. My father was born to Hungarian immigrants in the US, but they solely spoke Hungarian in the home. His two older brothers were both born in Hungary and had their early schooling there, so my dad went into kindergarten, in public schools, having to pick up English there.

I provide that context because they used to have gypsy bands play at summer picnics. At those picnics, they would have gypsy bands, including the cimbalom.

Where did you learn to play it?

I was a little self-taught, and then I went to study in Hungary in the early 1980s.

Have you performed the Háry János suite many times before?

I've performed it hundreds of times, and recorded it twice with the Chicago Symphony (Sir Georg Solti, and Maestro Neeme Järvi) and with Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony.

What do you like about the piece?

Well, I only play on two movements and sit there for four. I must say that after all of these years, with the best orchestras I always hear something different and new. I'm sure that will be the case here with the National Symphony.

Where do you most often perform the cimbalom?

Over the years, I have played fairly regularly with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. I've also played with three of the orchestras in Mexico City, the Montreal Symphony, and others. Sometimes college orchestras have me play, and I've done that at Eastman, Michigan, Illinois, Texas Tech, Baylor, St. Olaf, and others. I've also played with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Orpheus.

What other instruments do you play?

I'm trained as a percussionist and received the first Doctorate in Percussion Instruments from the University of Michigan.


Want to hear the cimbalom in action? The NSO will perform the Suite from Háry János November 14-16, 2013 at the Kennedy Center, along with Liszt's Piano Concerto No 2 with pianist Alice Sara Ott, and Prokofiev's Excerpts from Romeo and Juliet.



I missed this concert as I was in Europe most of November. The first -- and only -- time I heard a Cimbolom performance was in Madrid in the Plaza del Sol in April 2012. Each evening I was there two Cimbolom players performed there near the Southern entrance to the Metro station. It was always delightful and I do not think I was influenced by the wine I had just consumed near the Plaza Mayor or the Plaza de Santa Ana. I always put a few Euros into their "hat." Too bad there are not performances on that instrument around here. This is the first cimbolom performance in this area as far as I know in recent years.
David WhalinNo presence information on 1/7/2014 3:16 PM

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