Arts & Culture
6:21 pm
Mon February 3, 2014

ESSAY: Stradivarius Violin's Theft Stole Beauty from Us All

A violin maker reflects on what was lost with the theft of a Stradivarius violin in Milwaukee.
Credit Photos.com

Lake Effect essayist Korinthia Klein describes her feelings on the theft of a rare Stradivarius violin in Milwaukee.

Last Monday’s assault on the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster Frank Almond and the theft of his one of a kind violin, the Lipinski Stradivarius, has rocked Milwaukee and the rest of the world.

The investigation, which includes the FBI and Interpol as well as the Milwaukee Police Department, is ongoing. But so far there is no sign of the missing instrument. Lake Effect Essayist and violin maker Korinthia Klein says the loss affects us all:

I am shocked and saddened by the violent theft of Frank Almond's Stradivari. It's international news that the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra was leaving a recent performance 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 in a way that included us all in his discoveries and love for this instrument. His remarkable "A Violin's Life" project is a history lesson wrapped in the magic of great music.

Frank Almond has been in my violin shop a couple of times   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 to hold his violin, 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 vaguely surreal sensation to read a label that said "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. He has been as good as steward of such a piece of history as one could ask, tending to it with care while using it to its best effect and sharing it's beauty with our city and beyond. 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. 

Essayist Korinthia Klein is a violin maker and the mother of three in Milwaukee. She and her husband, a veteran, run a neighborhood violin store called Korinthian Violins in Bay View and she performs on the viola with Festival City Symphony and on mandola with The Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra. She blogs at Korinthia’s Quiet Corner.