Above: Bronislaw Huberman
Recently I watched the excellent documentary film Orchestra of Exiles, the story of the founding of what is now the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra by violinist Bronislaw Huberman. In the course of the film, we learn about the theft of Huberman's prized Strad in 1936; it was "lost" for half a century.
The violin is currently played by Joshua Bell. Whenever I have attended Bell's performances as a soloist or recitalist, his program bio duly mentions that he plays the Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius of 1713. But it wasn't until I watched the documentary that I grasped the story behind this marvelous instrument.
Bronislaw Huberman's Stradivarius was stolen from the violinist's Carnegie Hall dressing room on February 28, 1936. Some fifty years later, a man named Julian Altman was dying of cancer in a Connecticut prison. On his deathbed, Altman told his wife that the violin he had been playing all these years was the Huberman Strad, which Altman had either stolen himself or purchased from the actual thief. Altman's widow contacted Lloyd's of London and, after the violin was confirmed to be the very one that had been stolen in 1936, she was paid a finder's fee by the insurer.
The Huberman Stradivarius was purchased by Norbert Brainin of the Amadeus String Quartet. After Brainin had stopped playing, the violin ended up at J & A Beare Ltd. in London where it was being prepared for sale to a German collector. By chance, Joshua Bell stopped in at J & A Beare one day in 2001, was shown the legendary violin, fell in love with it, and bought it for $4,000,000.
This fascinating film tells the tale of the lost Huberman violin, its return, and how Joshua Bell came to own it.
Above: Joshua Bell with the Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius; photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco
Joshua Bell gives a recital at Carnegie Hall on February 7th, 2018, with pianist Jeremy Denk. I plan to be there.