Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Stealing Beauty from Us All

I am shocked and saddened by the violent theft of Frank Almond's Stradivari.  The concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra was leaving a performance Monday night when he was attacked with a taser and his instrument was stolen.  The "Lipinski Stradivari" for insurance purposes is worth millions, but its true value is beyond measure.  It's a piece of history, and it's been stolen from all of us.

Instruments made by Antonio Stradivari are prized by musicians and collectors.  They are the standard by which all violins are judged.  They have long lives, and their stories are intertwined with some of the greatest figures in music history.  Many have names, and this one was named for Karol Lipinski, a Polish virtuoso from the first half of the 19th century.  The "Lipinski" violin was built in 1715 during what is referred to as Stradivari's golden period.  It's a stunning example of the violin maker's craft.

Part of what makes working with violins interesting, however, is finding them a good match with players, and Frank Almond and the Lipinski were a superb fit.  He was invested in this instrument in a profound manner.  Not only did he use his tremendous skills to master what that violin could do, but he delved into its history and worked to share that with the world.  Our store contributed to a kickstarter campaign that he created in order to fund the remarkable "A Violin's Life" project.

Frank Almond was in my shop a couple of times to have his bow rehaired.  The first time he had his violin with him, and he was kind enough to ask me if I'd like to hold it.  He's a generous person with his time and talent, and he knew what it would mean to a violin maker like me to be able to examine such an exquisite instrument.  I was not going to be presumptuous enough to ask, but I was thrilled beyond belief when he offered.  I accepted it from his hands while trying to look appreciative but not as ridiculously giddy as I actually felt.  It was beautiful.  And what an almost surreal sensation to look at a label in a violin in my shop that read "Antionius Stradivarius" and have it be real for a change.  That's not an experience I will soon forget, and I only got to hold that instrument for a few moments.

I can only begin to imagine how devastating this event is for Mr Almond, for whom that instrument was the tool of his trade and a partner in creating music at the highest levels.  I've heard people speculating about why he didn't have security in the parking lot while carrying such a valuable instrument, but those people don't understand the life of a working musician.  He would need security everywhere, all the time, and I just don't see how that's possible.

And that still might not stop a targeted theft which this most likely was.  A violin like the Lipinski is not something that can be sold unnoticed.  I suspect someone hired people to procure it for a new life as a secret possession.  I once attended an instrument auction at Christie's in New York where a Stradivari violin sold for more than a million dollars, and as I watched the bidding it occurred to me that here was a room filled with people who could afford a million dollar violin, but only one person was going to take it home.  It must be unusual and possibly frustrating for people with that much money to not be able to have something they want.  I think with regards to the Lipinski Strad someone with money decided they were going to "buy" something that was not for sale.  That level of greed is beyond my comprehension.

I'm concerned for Frank Almond, I'm worried about the safety of the violin, and I am disheartened by what we have lost as a community.  To remove that instrument's voice from public spaces robs us all.

Instruments like the Lipinksi Strad have long lives with fascinating stories.  I just hope this particular chapter has a happy ending.


  1. Well written. I hope that this comes to the attention of enough people to aid in what I deeply believe is inevitable: the eventual discovery/recovery of the instrument in time.

  2. This is so beautiful and well thought out Kory. I wondered if you knew Mr. Almond and this is just devastating. I'll never cease to be amazed at people's selfishness and greed. :o(

  3. Kory- your perspective as a luthier, performer, and as a concerned citizen is very important to me. I hope Mr. Almond was not injured physically; undoubtedly his emotional trauma is significant.

  4. Thank you to another person that makes this city special.

  5. Well expressed, Kory. It does rob us all of a shared cultural treasure and of our own sense of security. I hope the mafia got the decoy.

  6. Beautifully put, Kory---thanks for expressing so well what many of us have been thinking and feeling---and more!

  7. Very well put. I hope it is recovered!

  8. I live in Florida now, but, my heart and soul still reside in Milwaukee. I cannot listen to classical music without being transported back to the red velvet chairs and the MSO maestros of the 70's-2000. I shall pray for Mr. Almond and the safe return of the muse of his soul. Olivi