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Long-Lost Stradivarius Violin Is Rediscovered

 Roman Totenberg
Wikimedia Commons
Roman Totenberg in Zakopane, Poland in 2000

It sounds like the plot of an indie film: A stolen priceless violin, silenced for more than three decades, has been found and restored to the family of its owner, according to The New York Times.


The 1734 Stradivarius violin - called the Ames Stradivarius, after its owner George Ames - belonged to Roman Totenberg when it was stolen from his office at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass.

Fast forward to 2011. Aspiring violinist Philip Johnson gave the violin – with a lock on its case – to his ex-wife, Tanh Tran, shortly before his death. Tran set the violin aside for a few years.

When she and a boyfriend broke the lock on the violin’s case, Tran noticed the Stradivarius label on the instrument. In June 2015 she had the instrument appraised. The appraiser confirmed the Strad’s authenticity and notified law enforcement that the instrument might have been stolen. Law enforcement officials have no evidence that Tran knew the violin her ex-husband left her had been stolen. The value of the violin in 1980 was $250,000. Some Stradiarius instruments can fetch millions of dollars.

Johnson had long been a suspect in the crime, but there was never enough evidence of his involvement to justify issuing a warrant to search his property.

Roman Totenberg’s daughter, NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, announced the rediscovery of her late father’s violin on Thursday in a news conference with her sisters at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan.

Nina Totenberg says she and her family will restore the violin to playing condition and make sure the instrument will be played.

"The Ames Strad - now perhaps known a the Ames-Totenberg Strad - will eventually be in the hands of another great artist, like my father," Nina Totenberg said in Thursday's news conference, "and the beautiful, brilliant and throaty voice of that violin, long stilled, will once again thrill audiences in concert halls around the world."

Read more:

  • A Rarity Reclaimed: Stolen Stradivarius Recovered after 35 Years (NPR)
  • Missing for 35 Years, the Stunning Discovery of a Stolen Stradivarius (Washington Post)
Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.