A week ago the violinist Philippe Quint took a taxi from the Newark airport to his apartment in Lower Manhattan. The taxi arrived at about 12.30 AM and Mr. Quint watched as it drove away with his most important piece of luggage still inside- the 1723 “ex-Kiesewetter” Stradivarius violin, on loan to him from the Stradivari Society in Chicago, and probably worth around $4 million or so.
Full disclosure: for 11 years I had the “Dushkin” Strad (1701) on loan from the Stradivari Society, but I never lost it in a taxi or a restaurant or anyplace. The worst that happened was when I let some Russian guy try it one day at Bein and Fushi and he almost sawed it in half. Anyway, after what was probably not a great day, Mr. Quint got his Strad back the next evening from the driver, who had parked the van on a Newark street the previous evening without realizing the violin was inside. You can read about it here or here. Latest reports indicate Mr. Quint is recovering nicely but he’s in some hot water with his girlfriend.
A month ago in Toronto, a member of the Toronto Symphony mistakenly left his violin at a bus stop. Last summer, Tom Chiu (a violinist and composer in the Flux String quartet) fell asleep on the subway and woke up to find his Scarampella violin from 1913 missing. In 2004, the violinist Gidon Kremer left his del Gesu violin (probably worth something north of $5 million) on an Amtrak train. All three of these unfortunate episodes ended happily, with the instruments quickly and miraculously re-appearing unharmed, as was the case with probably the most famous incident of this nature in recent memory, when (in 1999), Yo Yo Ma mistakenly left his Montagnana cello in the trunk of a taxi in New York City.
Not as fortunate was Peter Stumpf, Principal Cello of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. After a concert in 2004 he returned home and left the orchestra’s 1684 Stradivari cello on the porch outside. By the next morning it was gone, snatched away by some kid on a bike. An alert commuter spotted the case a few days later next to a dumpster in a parking lot. She pulled over, put it in her car, and drove home. Evidently her boyfriend was pretty handy around the house and thought it would “make a great CD rack”. Mercifully, he was occupied with other projects for awhile and the cello was saved (again) when the woman saw a news report. Thinking quickly three weeks after the theft and unrelenting press coverage, she contacted the LA Phil. The instrument was intact, but had sustained some pretty serious damage. I remember thinking it was funny that Mr. Stumpf had also made a request to borrow another cello (owned by the orchestra) while the Strad was being repaired.
How can these things possibly happen? A guy on NPR thinks it’s all subconscious, like we’re all too focused on all of our artsy thinking to notice our instrument just disappeared, or else some kind of Spitzerian deeply entrenched desire to ruin our lives and careers, and it’s all intentional somehow. Hmmm.
Or maybe we’re just in a bar too long. And did Yo Yo’s insurance go up once they figured out he was driving around with a few million dollars in the trunk? Perhaps it was a rear-end-proof taxi.
So far it’s mostly violins and cellos we hear about. I had a violist friend who once left his instrument in a Wal-Mart parking lot. When he went to practice a week later he realized he’d left it and took a bus back to the lot; the viola was still there, but there were two violas left along with it. Okay, I made that one up, but I do think it’s interesting that with all that’s happened recently so far no violas have disappeared, thus further deepening the mystery and again proving the fact that violists are highly organized and responsible individuals.
I flew back home yesterday and I don’t think I’ve ever been more aware of where my violin was during the entire trip. I think I’ll go check on it now.