Kálmán Balogh is an exceptional musician, one of the most notable cimbalom players in the world. He has toured extensively in Europe and in North America to critical acclaim. Balogh has traveled to remote villages and studied the indigenous music of the Roma and Hungarian people. His cimbalom artistry was featured in numerous major European festivals and on classical concert stages. >>>
“You can feel the audience holding their breath as Balogh cranks up the pace and the hammers just skate at lightening speed across those strings”-
Kálmán Balogh is one of the foremost Hungarian cimbalom players, descending from a famous dynasty of Hungarian Gypsy musicians. His virtuosity is matched only by his understanding and respect of his heritage. A graduate of Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music of Budapest, he has completed many successful tours throughout the world with various ensembles, including ten tours in North America.
The cimbalom, a sort of oversized hammer dulcimer played with mallets like a vibraphone, possesses piano like percussive abilities to drive a band rhythmically or take the melodic lead.
In Kálmán Balogh’s expert hands, the cimbalom can do both simultaneously. His mastery of this unique and rare Hungarian folk instrument has mesmerized audiences.
Kálmán Balogh and the Gypsy Cimbalom Band, Live in Germany
Music does not respect borders. It flows across them like honey. And it flows forever, never still. The Slovak cowherd falls is love with a Hungarian speaking maid and moves to her village, bringing his songs with him. A Rom (Gypsy) musician in rural Transylvania plays a Jewish wedding in the 1920’s and carries that style forward, to mix with Saxon German and Romanian tunes, and whatever else is encountered in the meantime. There is no barbed wire, no moat, no guards that can stop a song from getting through. No army ends the march of a song: instead the troops will end up transporting it, willingly or not, whether they know it or not, wherever they campaign. Even if they all perish, the song will survive.
The rich collection of musical materials from Kálmán Balogh ’s latest album is a living illustration of this endless motion of music. In the course of ten tracks Balogh references a dizzying array of styles and approaches, from the flamboyantly virtuosic to the introspective, and from Balkan wedding music to Latin jazz. Here traditional Gypsy fiddling meets soft jazz trumpet while Hungarian, Macedonian, and Romanian tunes join together in a round dance, with Brahms and Liszt and even Bach peering out here and there.
This album also demonstrates the tendensy of leading musicians to make their own path. Kálmán Balogh has at least two astonishing gifts. The first is the most obvious, an uncanny control and power performing on his instrument. The subtlety of his touch is legendary, as are the different roles his instrument plays: now accompanist, now a wild soloist, here expressive, there percussive. This breadth is the key to this second gift, that of stretching his core repertoire in manifold directions and in doing so reinventing his instrument. The search for some notion of historic or stylistic authenticity would be here misplaced. The only authenticity of his unerring musical instincts.
Kálmán Balogh’s background and training render him an ideal musical personality to achieve such synthetic goals. He was born in Miskolc in North-Eastern Hungary in 1959 and started to play the cimbalom at the age of 11. His first teacher was his uncle, Elemer Balogh, who is musically remembered in the first part of Track 6. While this rich training in the oral tradition shaped his flair and the excellence of this ear, he supplemented this approach with classical studies, graduating from The Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest. Hungary is the only country in the world that has offered advanced music degrees in cimbalom study, and this combination of traditional and „classical” training marks Balogh’s free range, and also his remarkable control. He has become recognized as one of the world’s leading cimbalom players, and many is the aspiring young player who poudly identifies themselves as having studied with Kálmán Balogh. He has played with most of the leading traditional music groups in Hungary, and continues his career as a traveling virtuoso.
The instrument he plays traces its modern invention back to the last three decades of the 19th century, but it existed in many other forms for centuries. Today the instrument resembles nothing so much as a thick trapezoidal wooden table with sets of strings on its surface running at seemingly dizzying diagonals, the whole held aloft by trunklike legs. Today’s cimbalom has about 125 metal strings with 3 to 5 strings per note. But this powerful, tightly strung instrument was originaly a much smaller, portable one which the strolling player suupported with a strap around their neck. Examples of this can be seen throughout the region, from Moravia to Bulgaria, and other variants of this genus are the hammered dulcimer of the Appalachians. Like pianos, accordions, and guitars, the cimbalom has always been a marvelously versatile creation and an essential part of a band. It can whisper like the wind, or carry the force of a musical machine gun. It plays gentle chords, and outlines the harmony, but can take a solo like no one’s business. It supports forward motion with bold basslines, but its rolled chords, its glorious arpeggios, are perhaps the hallmark of its identity. All of these sounds and styles, and more, can be heard on Kálmán Balogh’s innovative new album.
Michael Beckerman, 2007
(Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music atNew York University)