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University of Iowa News Release

March 24, 2005

Visiting Artists Will Play Unique Matched Set Of Instruments April 6

The Summit Chamber Players from the University of Wyoming will perform a University of Iowa guest recital, playing a unique set of instruments built in the 1890s according to "modern acoustical principles," at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 6, in Harper Hall of the UI Voxman Music Building.

The concert will be free and open to the public.

The instruments, members of the violin family, were designed by Alfred Stelzner, a 19th-century mathematician-physicist-musician whose work achieved fame in Europe for a time but faded into obscurity in the 20th century. They were collected by James Christensen of North Liberty, a UI professor emeritus and amateur cellist. They include Stelzner's redesigned violin, viola and cello, plus two instruments that he invented: the violotta, played like a violin but tuned one octave below a violin; and the cellone, played like a cello but tuned two octaves below a violin.

Christensen recently rediscovered the history of Stelzner's instruments, acquired a set and lent them to the Summit Chamber Players. This is the only known complete set of Stelzner's instruments in playing condition.

The Summit Chamber Players performs works written specifically for these instruments by two German contemporaries of Stelzner: Felix Draeseke, who was professor of composition at the Dresden Conservatory, and Arnold Krug, who was professor of composition at the Hamburg Conservatory. The two works on the program April 6 will be Draeseke's Quintet for 2 violins, viola, violotta and cello and Krug's Sextet for 2 violins, viola, violotta, cello and cellone.

Members of the Summit Chamber Players are Naomi Gjevre and Javier Pinell, violin; Jim Przygocki, viola; John Thomson, violotta; Barbara Thiem, cello; and Rick Rognstad, cellone

Material from the Summit Chamber Players explains the significance and history of the Stelzner instruments: "Most performers acquire their own instruments . . . according to their own tastes and financial means. Inevitably there are tonal differences between instruments made by different makers who come from different countries and time periods. These differences may be used to highlight the interplay of different voices in the music, but a unique blend may be achieved when a group has access to a set of matching instruments.

"The instruments played tonight provide a unique example of such a blend as they are all examples of the work of the German inventor Dr. Alfred Stelzner (1852-1906).

"Growing up in Hamburg, Stelzner studied violin and piano, and eventually gained a doctoral degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Heidelberg. He combined a lifelong passion for music with his expertise in acoustics derived from his doctoral studies. Stelzner believed he could achieve superior tonal results over the traditional violin family by creating the instruments using elliptical rather than circular shaped designs.

"While Stelzner himself did not actually construct the instruments, he worked closely with fine German (instrument makers) . . . who made these beautiful instruments to Stelzner's exact specifications. . . . The few works that were composed for these instruments have likewise remained relatively unknown. Some of these are compositions of striking beauty, written at the height of German Romanticism. Certainly they deserve to be performed."

Gjevre teaches violin at the University of Wyoming (UW) and is a founding member of the Lindsayan String Quartet. During the summers she is on the violin faculty at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan. She has participated in the Aspen Music Festival, the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival and the Festival Internacional de la Cultura in Sucre, Bolivia, among others.

Pinell also teaches violin at UW and is a founding member of the Lindsayan String Quartet. During the summers he is on the violin faculty at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan. As a scholar, he has done pioneer research work on compositions for the violin by contemporary Bolivian composers.

Przygocki teaches viola, violin, and music education at UW. He is also principal violist with the Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra, teaches at the String Academy of Wyoming and is director of the University of Wyoming String Project. In the summers he teaches at the Indiana University Summer String Academy.

Thiem teaches cello and chamber music at UW and is artist-in-residence at Colorado State University. She is active as a soloist and chamber musician in the United States and Europe. She is a member of the Mendelssohn Trio and in the summers helps direct the International Summer Academy of Schloss Ort, Austria.

Thomson has been at the University of South Dakota since 1994. He is also in considerable demand as a conductor, and has led groups on both coasts of the United States and throughout the Midwest. He currently serves as concertmaster of the Northwest Iowa Symphony Orchestra and the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra. He has performed as soloist with orchestras throughout his native New Zealand and the United States and has served as concertmaster for several orchestras.

Since 1986 Rognstad has been at the University of South Dakota, where he conducts the Symphony Orchestra and teaches bass. Active as a guest conductor and clinician, he has led orchestras in South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota and Florida. He has served as principal bass for orchestras in Wyoming, Colorado, Florida and South Dakota, and has appeared as soloist and chamber musician in 17 states and Canada.

The concert is co-sponsored by the Draeseke Society, which works to preserve and promote Draeske's musical works. Read more about the Draeseke Society on the Web page at More information on Stelzner and photos of his instrument designs can be found at

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For information on UI arts events, visit on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Peter Alexander, 319-384-0072,

PHOTOS of the instrument and Stelzner's designs can be found at