NPR Story
12:03 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Rare Violin Worth Millions Stolen In Milwaukee

Originally published on Wed January 29, 2014 3:38 pm

Police around the world are on the lookout for a Stradivarius violin, stolen in a brazen armed robbery Monday night in Milwaukee.

The instrument, owned by Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond, is nearly 300 years old and said to be worth millions.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Mitch Teich of WUWM reports.

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Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. It's HERE AND NOW.

Police around the world are on the lookout for a Stradivarius violin stolen in a brazen armed robbery Monday night in Milwaukee. The instrument is nearly 300 years old, and said to be worth millions of dollars. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, Mitch Teich of WUWM reports.

MITCH TEICH, BYLINE: The violin known as the Lipinski Stradivarius has been on loan from anonymous benefactors to Milwaukee Symphony concertmaster Frank Almond since 2008. On Monday evening, Almond had just finished a performance at Wisconsin Lutheran College, and was walking to his car with the instrument when he was approached in the parking lot. Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn describes what reportedly happened next.

CHIEF EDWARD FLYNN: As he approached his parked car, the suspect used an electronic control device, commonly called a Taser, and struck him, causing him to drop the violin and fall to the ground. The suspect then took the violin and fled in a waiting car, driven by a second suspect.

TEICH: Flynn says investigators aren't certain, but they believe the robber targeted this specific violin, which he says is extremely valuable, but only within a very small community.

FLYNN: This is not something that can be easily sold for even a fraction of its monetary value.

TEICH: The violin was made in Italy in 1715 by Antonio Stradivari, and has passed through several hands in its nearly three centuries of existence. It's been known as the Lipinski Stradivarius since it was owned by Polish virtuoso Karol Lipinski in the 19th century. It had not been played regularly for more than a decade before the loan was made to Frank Almond. Speaking on Milwaukee Public Radio shortly after he took possession, Almond described what made the violin so remarkable to play.

FRANK ALMOND: It gives you options. An instrument like this is so powerful and has so many different kinds of shadings and colors, coupled with a range and an evenness that makes it, I wouldn't say easy, but easier to do what you're trying to do artistically.

TEICH: The shadings, colors and range were all in evidence as Almond demonstrated the Stradivarius in the studio with a performance of Bach's "Partita for solo violin in E Major."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTITA FOR SOLO VIOLIN IN E MAJOR")

TEICH: Still, even as Almond made the instrument sing once more, he and others acknowledged the risk of keeping a priceless instrument in circulation. In the same 2008 interview, Chicago violin dealer Stefan Hersh said the issue isn't even the dollar value.

STEFAN HERSH: It's posterity. This is a very finite supply of objects, 600-some-odd Stradivari objects in the world. If one is gone when it's custodially trusted - entrusted to you, and then you have to sort of live with yourself having taken something away from posterity by being irresponsible. Frank understands that. Anybody who has these things understands it. It's more than money.

TEICH: Frank Almond himself said he tried not to think too much about the instrument's value.

ALMOND: If I thought about it all the time, I'd go completely crazy. You know, I got my first really great instrument loaned to me when, I think, I was 11 or 12. You just try not to do anything stupid most of the time. It's like having a small child with you. And other than that, you know, I just sort of go about my life, and I can't really worry about anything out of my control happening.

TEICH: A Milwaukee Symphony spokesman says Frank Almond is recovering from the injuries he sustained in the robbery, but he will not perform with the group this weekend. Milwaukee Police have enlisted the help of the FBI's art crimes unit and Interpol in searching for the culprits. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Mitch Teich, in Milwaukee.

CHAKRABARTI: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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