Apr 15, 2011
One of the world’s greatest cimbalom players – who’s also one of Chicago’s hidden musical treasures – is playing this Sunday, and the Gypsy Culture Preservation Project is urging music lovers to attend (7:30 to 11 p.m., Sunday, April 17 at Marie’s Italian Restaurant, 4127 W. Lawrence).
Alex Udvary is one of the world’s top-ranked players of the cimbalom (a European hammer dulcimer) and, with his many musical cousins, a stalwart of Chicago’s Romani music community. Udvary is who the CSO calls when they need a cimbalom player; Kodaly, Bartok, Stravinsky, Boulez and others have written for the instrument. He’s also been featured in a TV commercial for Wendy’s. He comes from a long line of Gypsy musicians; his great-aunt, the Countess Verona, is considered one of the great cimbalom players of all time.
Udvary has performed across Europe and in the close-knit Gypsy community here since moving to Chicago in the ’70s; he plays in a duo at Julius Meinl once a month. Sunday’s gig is a rare opportunity to catch a larger ensemble – he’ll be joined by cousins playing violin, guitar and bass, performing swing, Hungarian folk, Yiddish, and continental repertoire in the highly-ornamented Gypsy cabaret style – and if the turnout is good, Steve Balkin of the GCPP says it could become a weekly engagement.
Balkin is known as a voice for preservation of Maxwell Street (read his open letter to the new mayor at Beachwood Reporter); he’s an economist at Roosevelt University. He encountered Chicago’s Gypsies at the old Maxwell Street and has studied their culture in line with his interests in outdoor markets and microenterprises. As his interest grew, he began compiling online resources and maintains a clearinghouse for Romani Culture on the internet.
“You have to go to Budapest or Paris to hear music like this,” Balkin says. “Alex and his cousins are the last generation of American gypsy musicians who play this repertoire.” He’s asking fans of ethnic and world music to come out and support “this spirited, thrilling, soulful music.”
Here’s Alex Udvary with violinist Jovan Mihailovic at Julius Meinl’s: