Frank Almond is an accomplished violinist in his own right. But when he performs in Bend as part of the High Desert Chamber Music Spotlight Series on Friday, Nov. 20, he'll be playing an instrument that has attained its own celebrity status: a 300 year-old Stradivarius violin.
Almond currently holds the concertmaster chair at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and serves as artistic director of the Frankly Music Chamber Series. Touring the world as a chamber musician, Almond has served as both a conductor and a performer. He is a member of An Die Musik, one of the most distinguished chamber music ensembles performing today. Also featuring a viola, cello, oboe, and piano, the quintet received two Grammy nominations for its "Timeless Tales" project.
Establishing himself as a virtuoso at a young age, a 17-year-old Almond became one of the youngest prizewinners in the history of the Nicolo Paganini Competition in Genoa, Italy. He went on to earn two degrees at the Juilliard School and is currently teaching violin at the Chicago College of Performing Arts.
Throughout his career, Almond has proven himself as one of the world's premier violinists, but it was the violin that made international headlines last year.
The antique violin that Almond plays is known as the Lipinski Stradivarius. On a website dedicated to the storied instrument, Almond explains that the Lipinski is one of approximately 500 remaining violins that were constructed by Antonio Stradivari during the 17th and 18th centuries and are universally regarded as the finest violins ever produced.
The original owner of the Stradivarius, Almond writes, was Giuseppe Tartini, an Italian composer who gave the instrument to his pupil, Signor Salvini, who subsequently gifted it to a Polish violinist by the name of Karol Lipinski. After Lipinski's death in 1861, Gewandhaus Orchestra Concertmaster Engelbert Röntgen acquired the instrument and it stayed in the Röntgen family for three generations. In 1962, it was purchased by Evi Liivak, an Estonian immigrant living in New York who played the Lipinski in front of audiences all over the world, often with her husband Richard Anschuetz accompanying her on the piano. Anschuetz held onto the instrument long after his wife's death in '96.
Now valued at more than $5 million, the violin was lent to Almond by the Anschuetz family in 2008. Almond spent the next six years playing the Lipinski and, in a sense, building a relationship with an instrument that has been personified and revered by violinists for centuries.
Then, all of the sudden, it was gone. As he explains in a 2011 interview with Vanity Fair, on a cold winter night in Milwaukee, as Almond was leaving a concert, the Lipinski was stolen from him by a middle-aged street criminal. Fortunately, the violin was recovered nine days later with help from the Milwaukee Police Department and the FBI.
Almond continues to cherish and perform on the Lipinski. In fact, his most recent album, A Violin's Life, represents the only modern recordings of the 300-year-old instrument. The album is like a musical memoir, featuring pieces that were composed using the same violin by Giuseppe Tartini in the 18th century and by Karol Lipinski and Julius Röntgen Jr. in the 19th century.
The project was funded by donations from a Kickstarter campaign and it made the Billboard Top ten within the first week of its 2013 release. Capitalizing on the success of these recordings, Almond started a second Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for A Violin's Life: Vol. 2. The campaign, which ended in August, raised more than $23,000 and the recording process has already begun.
The upcoming concert on Nov. 20 will feature works from A Violin's Life as well as the chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2. Violinist Isabelle LaForet Senger, founder and director of High Desert Chamber Music, will join Almond and McCabe onstage for the Moskowski "Suite for Two Violins and Piano."
High Desert Chamber Music with Frank Almond
7:30 pm doors Friday, Nov. 20
First United Methodist Church
680 NW Bond St.