Friday, March 24, 2017

No strings attached

For violinists, there is nothing like playing a Stradivarius, which were fiddles made by Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737). Roman Totenberg, a famous violinist, had one that he played for 38 years until it was ripped off in 1980. He had played at a reception in Boston that May, and saw a young violinist named Philip Johnson hanging around the venue, and then, boom! Totenberg went to go home, and the violin was gone.

Some say that the craftsmanship that Stradivari employed still can't be duplicated, and some say it was the now non-unavailable Italian maple wood that he used that creates that unmistakable tone.

Totenberg pointed the finger at Johnson, but the police couldn't act on his suspicions alone, and so he lived the rest of his life without what he called his "musical partner of 38 years."  And he lived to be 102!

Johnson didn't make it to 102, for sure. He bought it in 2011 at the age of 58, leaving behind a locked violin case, the locks of which his wife finally figured out how to open in 2015, and guess what was inside?

The priceless Stradivarius violin, that's what! The fiddle has now been returned to the Totenberg family (one of whom is Nina Totenberg, the legal affairs reporter on NPR). They have returned the $101,000 insurance payout the late Mr T received long ago and are looking for a new owner, someone who will be the right steward for this musical treasure and also can come up with the price, which should be much higher than the $15,000 that Totenberg paid when he bought it as a young man.

Ms Wang has just received a request to play
"Orange Blossom Special" on the returned fiddle.
The Totenbergs put on a private recital the other night, and Mira Wang, who studied with Mr Totenberg, had the honor of giving the violin its first public airing since that night in 1980.

That locked case reminded me of a story in my own family. When my parents were just newlywed, they went to the shore for a vacation, and while they were seeing the fishing boats come back to the dock one sunny evening, the diamond fell out of Mom's ring, and into the bay.

Well, of course, she was disconsolate, and a couple of days later, Dad figured he could cheer her up with a seafood dinner. Mom ordered the flounder, and when she cut into that fish, what do you think was inside?

That's right...Bones!

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