Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Lipinski Strad Disaster

What Kind of an Idiot Steals a Strad?

Update Thurs. 2/6: Milwaukee police have recovered the Lipinski Stradivarius.

Update Wed. 2/5: Three in custody, Chief Flynn to hold press conference at 4:30 p.m.

Monday night, I probably walked right by that maroon van behind Wisconsin Lutheran College, in which a pair of thieves lay in wait for Frank Almond and the Lipinski Stradivarius. About 45 minutes later, one of them got out of that van, tasered Frank and took one of the greatest violins ever made. (Frank is taking the weekend off from the MSO, but he'll be fine.)

The theft happened after Almond's latest Frankly Music program, with clarinetist Todd Levy, pianist Christopher Taylor and cellist Joseph Johnson. The special qualities of the Lipinski figured importantly in this program, especially in Messaien's Quartet for the End of Time. This was among the best concerts I've ever heard overall, and the quartet performance rose to an unearthly plane. I'm glad I was there to document it. If it turns out that we've lost the Lipinski, it could not have gone out with a more glorious swan song.

Frankly Music is an important side project for Almond, who is best know here as concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Though the crime happened in Wauwatosa, the Milwaukee Police Department has taken the lead in the investigation. Chief Flynn is a Milwaukee Symphony fan and understands the importance of the instrument beyond its monetary value. I'm sure that MPD will do everything possible to recover it.

The Lipinski is valued at about $6 million, but it's not the sort of thing you can sell easily. Unless you have a Goldfinger-type mad collector lined up, stealing such an object makes no sense. Everyone in the violin world knows it, and any musician would instantly report a Lipinski sighting to the authorities.

The nature of the crime suggests that the thieves knew what they were after, which is a downer on one hand and encouraging on the other. If they know what they have, they're less likely to damage it. But if they know what they have, they might be more likely to have a buyer lined up, and the violin could be on its way out of the country on a private jet.

Either way, if the thieves have their way, the world might not hear someone play this magnificent instrument again for decades. This is not only a crime against an individual, but also a crime against music and culture in general. A Milwaukee family has legal ownership, but the Lipinski Strad belongs to the world.

An art collector with a stolen masterwork can at least lay eyes on it, and as long as someone sees a painting or a sculpture, it lives to an extent. But a violin hidden in a vault might as well not exist. Until it's played, and played by someone as skilled and sensitive as Frank Almond, a world-class violin is dead. To merely possess it is idle hoarding, as stupid as filling your house to the ceiling with old magazines.

To whomever you are out there: What's the point? Give it back.

The CD pictured above is available through Almond's website devoted to the Lipinski Strad. And here is a video we made with Frank for Third Coast Daily.