Stradivarius curator recalls hearing news of violin theft

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- On Monday evening, February 10th, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond played the 1715 Lipinski Stradivarius violin in an official performance for the first time since it was stolen on January 27th. Almond plays the violin, owned by an anonymous woman living in southeastern Wisconsin -- but it is the job of Stefan Hersh to take care of it, and he knows the instrument better than anyone.

Hersh's Chicago violin company has been the curator of the Stradivarius since 2008.

Part of the arrangement that Frank has the violin for use is he brings it periodically to us to examine," Hersh said.

A bond forms -- as does a sense of responsibility.

"The Lipinski has really wonderful stories to tell," Hersh said.

None as dramatic as the one we've been witness to. So when the phone rang after the theft, Hersh says Almond was in a panic.

"He just called me -- 'they got the violin, they got the violin.' That's all he could think about. The whole thing was at first kind of disorienting, bewildering. I was just standing in my house thinking, 'who does that? Why?' Hersh said.

At first, Hersh figured the violin would be found -- but as the days went by...

"I began to get skeptical and think -- uh oh, it's not coming back," Hersh said.

All Stradivari violins are valuable -- but this one, the Lipinski, is from the upper echelon, with a sound all its own.

If it was left exposed to the cold, it could have been damaged.

"Cracks that would occur from it being cold and dry. There could be some deterioration of the varnish. We continued to be concerned that someone would smash it in an attempt to discard it as evidence," Hersh said.

What followed was a week of worry, so when it was finally found, Hersh hustled up from Chicago to inspect the instrument.

"The original plan had been if the violin wasn't up to snuff, that I would have brought it back down to Chicago with me last Thursday when I came to see it, and that would have delayed this performance that's happening," Hersh said.

So, Monday's concert was a victory for the violin and in the music was a message for thieves who might think to steal a Stradivarius.

"You can't steel them. The world owns them, and the world doesn't like to have things stolen from it," Hersh said.