One doesn’t think of the career of a professional violinist as being fraught with peril and high drama, but on the night of January 27th, violinist Frank Almond, concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and founder of the popular “Frankly Music” series, was leaving a chamber music performance in Wisconsin when a stranger approached him in the parking lot and shot him with a stun gun. As Almond fell to the ground, helpless, the assailant swooped down, grabbed Almond’s violin case and ran off, to a waiting getaway car. The vehicle peeled out of the parking lot, leaving Almond stunned, on the ground, and minus one very famous Stradivarius violin, the 1715 Lipinski Strad, valued at $5,000,000. Priceless, in truth. Irreplaceable.
I read this story earlier in the week, appalled by the overt nature of the theft, the targeting of one man, one violin, the stalking required, the planning, the use of a gun. This was far from the last stolen Strad story I shared with my readers, where the violinist had been distracted in a London train station sandwich shop, and the young thieves likely had no idea what they were getting. (http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/stolen-stradivarius-recovered/)
The Lipinski Strad is an extremely high profile instrument and Almond is a very high profile violinist, well respected both locally and internationally. Both have been a source of media coverage in the past year, with the release of a CD, A Violin’s Life, which features Almond performing music that relates to the Lipinski Strad’s nearly 300 year old history. 1715 was at the height of Stradivarius’ golden era as a luthier. Giuseppe Tartini, composer and violinist extraordinaire, who composed “The Devil’s Trill,” first owned this instrument. Polish virtuoso Karol Lipinski played this violin. Almond, who plays the instrument on loan, courtesy of an anonymous donor, has devoted considerable energy to researching and making public the violin’s extraordinary life, through this CD. Is this, then, an ominous portent for prominent violinists, who will now forever glance over their shoulders warily as they walk out into the night, post-performance, precious instrument in hand?
It’s worth mentioning to non-violin folks that a theft like this isn’t like stealing a Rembrandt from a museum; it’s far worse. A professional violinist builds a powerful relationship with his/her instrument. Six to eight hours a day, on average, there it is, tucked right up under his/her chin, left arm and hand curved protectively around it to support it, play it, coax all those gorgeous sounds out of it. A lifetime of training has gone into the endeavor. Countless hours of frustration, sweat, toil, disappointment and triumph, and an almost fanatical devotion to the craft and that specific violin. For a violinist to lose such an instrument, particularly to theft, is personal agony atop extraordinary loss.
The story has a happy ending: on Wednesday, the Milwaukee police announced they’d taken suspects into custody, and on Thursday afternoon, reported that the instrument had been found, in a Milwaukee residence, in the attic. In a suitcase (yikes) but apparently undamaged.
Ten days, from theft to retrieval. Way to go, Milwaukee Police department, Police Chief Edward Flynn, and FBI Arts Crime Team. Stories like this restore my faith in humanity and law enforcement. To thieves Salah Jones and Universal Allah, well, enjoy your time in prison, gents.
On Monday evening, Almond and the Lipinski Strad are scheduled for a performance that features the music from “A Violin’s Life.” It’s sure to be an incredible evening, compounded by all this high drama. Imagine if the violin were still missing? Would they have gone ahead with the performance? Earlier this week, as I read about the upcoming concert, I’d felt so sad for all involved. Now there’s a broad grin on my face. What a performance, indeed. What a story, for Frank Almond and the now-even-more-renown Lipinski Strad. Here’s wishing them both a hell of a show.
Check out http://aviolinslife.org for great details about the Lipinski Strad, photos, its 300 year old history, and more about the “A Violin’s Life” project. Here, you’ll also find links to buying the CD, to Frank Almond’s own website, and information on his “Frankly Music” chamber music series, now in its tenth year. Also, Laurie Niles at Violinist.com had a great interview with him about “A Violin’s Life” back in May 2013, that’s a great read. http://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20135/14636/