POSTPONED: The Science and Music of Old and New Violins

Saturday, March 7, 2015
Assembly Hall

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Assembly Hall

In 1704, the year that Stradivari built the violin now known as the “Betts,” Isaac Newton published his second book, Opticks. In it he explains the refraction of white light into its component colors by a prism. A century later, Keats famously lamented Newton’s explanation, which to his mind drained the beauty and mystery from the rainbow. In the poem “Lamia” he wrote, “Do not all charms fly at the mere touch of cold Philosophy?”

Today people are able to find charm in a rainbow, all the while knowing it can be explained scientifically. Still, the underlying worry that scientific knowledge comes at a cost to our aesthetic or spiritual life lives on, and perhaps nowhere more than in the violin world. The science of the violin has lagged far behind that of the rainbow, in good part because the technology needed to accurately measure sound and vibration was not developed until the 20th Century. By then Stradivari had become a kind of figurehead for the persistence of mystery in an age of analysis.

Joseph Curtin will help us to explore the science of sound and violin-making. We will learn about his craft, listen to some new instruments, and compare their sound to some old ones. After Joseph’s talk, we will be treated to a unique concert by Black Oak Ensemble where we will hear the various instruments performed by internationally acclaimed musicians.

About the Artists
Joseph Curtin builds violins and violas, is deeply involved in acoustical research, and is passionately committed to the ongoing evolution of violin family instruments. Though the majority of his work time is spent alone at a bench, he collaborates extensively with a network of craftspeople, designers, scientists, and musicians. Over the past 35 years, Mr. Curtin has built violins for some of the most distinguished artists of our time, including Erick Friedman, Ilya Kaler, Cho-Liang Lin, Elmar Oliveira, Yehudi Menuhin, and Ruggiero Ricci. In 2005, Curtin was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, and in 2013, the “ex-Ricci” Curtin & Alf violin sold in auction for $132,000, a world record price for work by living makers. Learn more at

Black Oak Ensemble is a group of special soloists and chamber musicians. The members have won multiple prizes and nominations (Grammy etc..). They have been featured on a special LIVE performance on WFMT, The Steinway Series and have been invited to perform at the Ravinia Festival. The initial group started in 2011 when Croatian guitar virtuoso Goran Ivanovic and members of the Lincoln Trio, violinist Desirée Ruhstrat and cellist David Cunliffe met for the first time and performed together to a standing room only audience on Chicago’s prestigious Music In the Loft Series. The three continued to collaborate when time allowed. In 2014 their good friend violinist/violist Aurélien Fort Pederzoli of the Spektral Quartet joined the group. Their name, Black Oak, was chosen for the beautiful tree that is native to their home state of Illinois.
This event is open to the public.
VIP tickets are $35. Only 50 of these tickets are available. They include a special reception with the artists after the concert.
Regular Admission Tickets are $25.
Student Tickets are free but require a reservation.

Buy and reserve tickets at

Sponsored by the International House Global Voices Program, the Alumni Club of Chicago, and Argonne National Laboratories.

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