Arts & Culture
5:48 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

Rare, Valuable Stradivarius Violin Stolen in Milwaukee

Frank Almond performs with his Stradivarius violin in WUWM's studios, in 2008.
Credit Bonnie North

MSO concertmaster Frank Almond and Stefan Hersh of Darnton and Hersh Fine Violins in Chicago discuss the beauty and risks of playing a rare Stradivarius violin with Lake Effect's Bonnie North.

A rare, multi-million dollar Stradivarius violin was stolen Monday night from Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster  Frank Almond, according to Milwaukee police.

Authorities say the "exceptionally valuable" Stradivarius violin was taken during an armed robbery at approximately 10:20 PM in a parking lot at Wisconsin Lutheran College, where Almond had performed.

At a Tuesday press conference, Police Chief Edward Flynn said Almond was approached as he reached 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," Flynn said. "He then took the violin and fled in a waiting car, driven by a second suspect."

Only about 600 Stradivari objects still exist today, and at least one estimate puts the violin's value at around $3.5 million. But Flynn said the instrument has such value only to a very small community.

"This is not something that can easily be sold for even a fraction of its monetary value," he said.

The so-called Lipinski Stradivarius was built in 1715, and owned by such violin greats as Giuseppe Tartini, its Polish namesake Karol Lipinski, and Evi Liivak of Estonia. It was on loan to Almond after being locked away for more than 20 years.

Almond received permission from the owner to use it in the spring of 2008. After some small adjustments, and a verification of the instrument’s provenance, the violin debuted in front of Milwaukee audiences in September 2008.

At the time, Almond acknowledged there was risk in bringing such a valuable and rare piece back in the public sphere.

"If I thought about it all the time, I'd go completely crazy," Almond said in a 2008 interview with Lake Effect's Bonnie North. "You just try not to do anything stupid most of the time. It's like having a small child with you most of the time...I just sort of go about my life. I can't really worry about anything out of my control happening."

Almond's point of view differed from Stefan Hersh, co-owner of Darnton and Hersh Fine Violins in Chicago, which confirmed the violin's provenance.

"I don't believe they should never be played or shouldn't be loaned out, but I believe certain of the purest examples, it would just be better if they were not in circulation with musicians, simply because they need to be preserved for future generations," Hersh told Lake Effect in 2008.

But Almond said instruments were meant to be heard.

"There are people who really believe that the best way to preserve these is to not have these out and circulating. As a player, I instinctively rebel against that, but I kind of understand the point," Almond said.

Almond had launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 to fund one of the only modern recordings of the Lipinski violin that also gave a nod to its history.

Hersh said the value of the Lipinski Stradivarius is about more than money.

"It's posterity. This is a very finite supply of objects," he said in 2008.

Listen to Almond play the Lipinski Stradivarius violin in Lake Effect's studios in 2008 below.

Frank Almond plays the Lipinski Stradivarius violin in Lake Effect's studios in 2008.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.