Over the centuries, Stradivarius has become the standard for the best in stringed instruments. With the recovery of a stolen 300-year-old Strad violin, a Milwaukee musician will once again be able to make sweet music.
The instrument, known as the Lipinski Strad after a famed Polish virtuoso who owned it in the 19th century, was stolen Jan. 27 during the armed robbery of Frank Almond, the concertmaster for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Almond had just finished a concert when he was attacked by someone who used a stun gun and who seized the instrument, worth an estimated $5 million.
"There are good days, and there are bad days,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said at a televised news conference on Thursday, adding later. “The violin has been recovered. It is a wonderful, wonderful day.”
“We are very happy,” Mark Niehaus, president of the orchestra, told reporters. He went on to thank city police, the FBI and all of those who helped recover the instrument. “We have a strong confidence that the instrument is fine,” he said later.
In the classical music universe, Stradivarius is a brand as celebrated in the field of stringed instruments as Rolls-Royce is in its niche. A Stradivarius or Strad is one of the violins, cellos and other stringed instruments built by members of the Stradivari family, particularly Antonio Stradivari, during the 17th and 18th centuries. While some musicians insist that other violins are as good or better, there is a cachet that has become attached to sound from a genuine Strad.
There are about 650 Strad instruments still in existence. The one in Milwaukee is on permanent loan to Almond from an anonymous donor. The violin dates from 1715, and Almond began playing it in public in 2008. He has discussed the instrument in interviews and on stage.
In January, Almond had just completed a chamber concert with the instrument at Wisconsin Lutheran College and was walking to his car about 10:20 p.m. when he was attacked, police said. Almond fell to the ground, and the attacker grabbed the instrument and fled in a minivan. The violin case was found hours later on the North Side of Milwaukee, police said.
A reward of $100,000 was offered for the instrument’s safe return.
During the news conference, Police Chief Edward A. Flynn said that there were tips from the public that aided in the investigation and that that information would be passed on to those handling the reward.
At least some information came from the company that makes the electronic stun gun. That led to a purchase in Texas. From there the trail led to another person, Flynn said. From Texas the trail led back to Milwaukee and to the arrest of three people on Monday.
Searches were conducted, and the violin was found in a suitcase in the attic of one home, Flynn said. The person had been holding the suitcase for a friend and is not expected to be charged.
Police have yet to release the names of those arrested in Milwaukee and what charges they will face. Two men, ages 41 and 36, and a 32-year-old woman are in custody.
Dist. Atty. John T. Chisholm said formal charges are expected by Friday. Among the possible charges, he said, was felony robbery.
The theft was executed by local people, Flynn said. One person arrested had a prior arrest for art theft. Flynn implied that at least one of those in custody helped lead police to the violin, but he said none of those arrested would be eligible for part of the reward.
Asked about the violin’s condition, Flynn said police have been taking great care of it.
“It was handled like a baby, except we didn’t powder it,” the chief said.
Flynn also said that the violin looked good and that he couldn’t tell it was 300 years old.
“It doesn’t look a day over 250,” Flynn said.
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