The Theft, Recovery, and Legend of Joshua Bell’s Red Stradivarius Violin | Robb Report

The Theft, Recovery, and Legend of Joshua Bell’s Red Stradivarius Violin | Robb Report

(violin music) – My Strad was owned by one of my heroes, Bronislaw Huberman, one of the great violinists at the beginning
of the 20th century. And it has even more intrigue
because it was stolen from him at Carnegie Hall,
where he was playing a concert and someone snuck in and took it. And it was never recovered
during his lifetime. It only re-appeared in the ’80s when the thief, who had
kept it for 50 years and played on it for 50
years, he sort of admitted on his deathbed that he
had stolen the instrument. And so, kind of right out
of The Red Violin movie. And on top of it, my
violin, the Huberman Strad is particularly redish,
and there are only a few Strads that have this
particularly red varnish. And so it was like, when
I found it, I fell in love with it and I thought,
this is my red violin. (vigorous violin music) I played the soundtrack for a film called The Red Violin, which then won the Oscar for John Corigliano, the composer. I read the script and
basically told these stories. One by one, each of the
owners of the violin that followed them. I got
to play various characters. Every time you hear that red
violin, that was my playing. So that was fun. Just
a couple years later, I stumbled upon the Strad that I have now. Antonio Stradivari is the iconic name in violin making. His instruments were groundbreaking. He developed a way of
making instruments that had the most beautifully balanced
and beautiful sound of, I think, of any instruments ever. Most people, who know nothing
about violins or classical, know that Stradivarius, they know it like Picasso or Rembrandt, or
something like as that great name. So, I got my first Stradivarius
when I was 19 years old. And it was not one of the
famous, really expensive ones. And I managed to mortgage
my next several years away to buy it. But because of that, I was able then to trade
that in my 20s for another fantastic Strad, and
then, years later in 2001 I came across the
Huberman Strad from 1713. Probably the most valuable ones
are from this 20-year period in his life. But it really
wasn’t until the 19th century that some of the names start popping up. A man named Gibson who was
a violinist at the time, it took on his name for a while and Huberman owned it, and now
I call it the Huberman Strad. Huberman was in Carnegie Hall, the greatest hall in America
at the time, maybe still. He was playing a recital,
but he had two violins. He had a Guarneri and a Strad. And he would play both of
them in different pieces, and during the second half of the concert, he played on the Guarneri and he left the Strad backstage in his dressing room. And he finished playing the last note and his assistant had noticed that his violin was gone
from his dressing room. And of course, panicked, someone
had taken the Stradivarius and the word was out to the police, it was in the papers
and it was a big deal. A heist of a violin
like this. And usually, when violins are stolen, they turn up. Because it’s very hard to
sell an instrument like that. Because it will immediately be known. It’s like selling the Mona Lisa. So, it never turned up,
and he lived another 11 or 12 years after that,
never saw the violin again. It was a big mystery for 50 years. And then in the ’80s,
1986, almost 50 years after it was stolen, we find out that the thief was not interested in selling the violin. The thief was a violinist and wanted to have a Stradivarius to play on. And he was probably around 20 years old. He had snuck into Carnegie Hall that night and managed to convince the backstage crew that he was a huge fan of
Huberman, which, for sure he was. And said, “Can I just stand
in the wings and listen?” And he snuck into the dressing
room and put it underneath his coat, and went out
and he proceeded to play on it himself, and he had
a career as a violinist. And it’s even been said
that people would ask him, “What’s that violin?” And he would even joke, “Oh, this is a Stradivarius.” The other issue when you have a violin is that you need to take
it in to get looked at, and if you were to take it to any expert they would say, “What are
you doing with this Strad?” And they might even say, “Oh my God, this is the Huberman
Strad.” And call the police. He covered it up with
a kind of shoe polish to make it look kind of black and grimy so that nobody would ever know. And it turns out, that
this man, Julian Altman, violinist, probably not a great violinist, would have never been able
to get a Strad on his own in the right legal way,
had taken this violin and had a career playing
on Huberman’s Strad. And then, finally, on his deathbed, Julian Altman confessed to his wife. And tucked in the violin case
in some secret compartment, were articles about the
stolen Huberman violin. And he said, “Go look at
these articles, you’ll see that this is the violin
that I’ve been playing on.” So he confessed and
then he died soon after. Charles Beare, who ended
up selling it to me many years later, was given
the violin to sort of restore, because Julian Altman had
put this shoe polish on it and they spent nine months
cleaning meticulously this violin. Underneath all
this grime, was revealed this very rich original varnish of Strad that was still preserved
and it was an amazing sight. And actually, they were
left with a violin that was extremely valuable,
and one of the best Strad’s around that was
still in good condition. So when I tried the violin, in London, I was playing a concert
at the Royal Albert Hall that night and I went
in to get some strings at the famous violin shop, Charles Beare. And they said, “Before you
leave, we just happen to have in, just today, it’s on
its way to Germany, but we have the famous stolen Huberman Strad.” And I said, “Oh, let me try it.” And I went in a room and I literally started shaking when I played a few notes because I thought, this is my violin. It’s an amazing chemistry that one has with their instrument.
And it’s an amazing, amazing thing when you play a note on it and you feel the
overtones, their ringing. But it’s also a piece of history, it’s also a beautiful work of art. It’s so many things, and there are moments when I connect on stage,
in front of an audience. You’re playing great music,
a Beethoven concerto, which is also one of the
greatest human achievements along with one of the greatest instruments ever made by a human being.
You know, these things put together, you just feel elevated
and incredibly privileged. I feel incredibly lucky to
get to work with it every day. Sometimes I pinch myself. (slow violin music)

15 thoughts on “The Theft, Recovery, and Legend of Joshua Bell’s Red Stradivarius Violin | Robb Report

  1. Very interesting history of such a rare and fantastic violin. It rightly belongs to Mr. Bell; the 2 will play beautiful music together!

  2. This illustrates an idea I have been forming re: world class instruments/players and the filter of time.
    The Master builds instruments and creates a school of instrument making. This is how it was done…Stainer, what were you thinking?
    Materials, procedures, templates, fixtures, artistic interpretations of design, philosophical leanings and even superstition are part of the 'world building' of a Strad or other famed machine.
    But not everything that the Master or his school produced was of the highest quality: I am certain that customers of the day had quality and pricing tiers to choose from.
    Not every high-cost, custom built or ornate instrument had a great voice, not every student violin was without merit.
    Over years each of these instruments has changed hands many times, not always for the best!
    Repairs good or bad, counterfeits, theft, accidents, poor storage, fires, wars and changes in taste has pared down the population of venerable instruments to a sliver of what once was.
    But the over-arching selection criteria over hundreds of years was the voice of the gadget!
    Sure, some would trade on the name alone, but how many 'dud' or bad sounding Strads are known today?
    Coming to present day, we see Strads and other works of genius naturally finding their way to the best performers of our time.
    The best of the best, instrument and player forming a team, is the secret of the Stradivarius violin 'sound'.
    Then again, what do I know?

  3. Cool story Joshua Bell is today's greatest violinist in the classical world of music but too put it bluntly this guy totally kicks ass playing bluegrass love you fiddle playing. Thanks

  4. That's awesome that the dude stole it and kept it his whole life. Great story.

  5. This is one of the few “deathbed confession” stories that’s actually intriguing and cool. Usually it’s some demented old dude with 50 cats who starts rambling about how he worked on mind control technology at groom lake. You like that, bitch? Guess what…I stole a strad when I was 20, had a ton of articles written about me, then played the instrument out in public for the rest of my life.

  6. 08:19 am I sleep deprived, or is that violin whispering to us on top of the notes? Listen to the bow noise…..

  7. 7:42 oh that is a heavenly sound , unlike most of Stradivarius's i heard

  8. PLEASE tell Isserlis there is a Tortellier owned cello needs to be put in trust for IMS .. i have first refusal from Martin Jones Wales Margaret Reid cello BBC NOW. He put .

  9. IU G Hoffman

  10. Rachmaninoff's vocalise, i think its one of the best songs he composed.

  11. W.O.W.

  12. Thank you Joshua.

  13. can someone please tell me the name of the piece played at the end of the video ??? please please please

  14. shalom…

  15. Love Joshua Bell ♥️ his playing goes straight into my soul 🕊 Thank you so very much for sharing this beautiful video and the History of Joshua violin 🎻 and his beautiful playing. He’s so sweet and humble ♥️🎻♥️

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