More Crazy Instrument Stuff

Since this Strad thing happened (see earlier post) it seems like every week or so there are a few more zany instrument stories. Like this guy. I guess the idea of anonymity didn’t really make sense to him.

I mean, is it better to have a all these police and armed escorts and everything? Doesn’t that just announce to the whole world what you’re carrying around? If you add on the gun idea, it seems like this says a lot more about the violinist than the violin. Incidentally, 6 million British pounds is about $9,500,000; I’m not familiar with any Strad violin currently in that price range. Must be a really good one. Here’s the man himself, no guards in sight. Listen closely and you can hear the “satellite alarm”.

This week, Norman Lebrecht wrote a really interesting article discussing a violin up for sale for a cool $20 million, and the possible consequences of such a sale, including even greater difficulty for musicians to acquire them. He also examines the historical record of difficult economic times and their effect on arts institutions such as orchestras, and why this time might be a little different (not in a good way).

Regarding instrument valuations, one other event that may shift the game a bit is the impending sale of the “Fleming” Strad, an immaculate instrument from 1717, and one of only about 60 surviving cellos he crafted. It is on auction this week at Tarisio, and is expected to smash previous records. With world economic developments recently, it will be interesting to see how it all turns out.

After my own adventures over the past few months (involving the “Lipinski” Strad), I’ve been following these events pretty closely, and pondering the various elements that affect instrument valuations in today’s economic environment. I find the rush to these “portable” assets really fascinating; for many people who don’t seem concerned about liquidity these are turning out to be the ideal haven, although maybe permanently pricing out professional musicians in the process.

And what are the attractions of these things to non-musicians, beyond the possible investment returns? I did a radio interview recently with my friend and colleague Stefan Hersh, and we discussed a really interesting point about the unique functional aspect of these objects as well as their historic status. It was an idea I hadn’t really considered much as a musician; I just took it for granted. But it’s an important factor- if you pay an astronomical amount for a Biedermeier chair or a table or something, it might not work as well as say, something from IKEA. A big plush chair might be more comfortable, and the antique table might not hold your coffee cup so well. But these instruments are something else- they are perfectly crafted antiquities with monumental historic significance, and they really are superior functionally. They’re easier to play, they’re powerful acoustically,  with an endless variety of colors (in the proper hands).Trust me, there’s a reason every violinist wants a 1715 Strad. On top of all that, obviously Stradivari isn’t making them anymore, so there’s definitely a finite inventory.

On the other hand, $20 million for a del Gesu? I never thought I’d see that. Or some violinist bellowing about his police escort.