The Huberman Violin

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Ricordanza
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The Huberman Violin

Post by Ricordanza » Tue Feb 06, 2018 5:23 pm

Joshua Bell posted this informative piece about his Strad on the Philadelphia Orchestra website:
My violin is over 300 years old. Known as the Gibson ex-Huberman, the revered instrument came into my life one fateful day during the summer of 2001. I was in London, getting ready to play a Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall and decided to stop by the famous violin shop J & A Beare to pick up some strings. As I entered the shop, Charles Beare was just coming out of the back room with a stunning violin in hand. He told me that it was the famous Huberman Stradivarius, and of course I was instantly intrigued.

I soon learned all of the known details of the violin’s remarkable history, which is complete with twists and turns to rival the film that I had only recently finished working on—The Red Violin. Believed to be one of only five or six instruments made in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona, Italy, the violin has belonged to many, including the English violinist George Alfred Gibson. But it was its connection to Bronisław Huberman that I found particularly fascinating and somewhat personal.

Huberman was a Jewish Polish violinist who lived from 1882 to 1947. He was a child prodigy who was revered for his remarkable virtuosity and daring interpretations. Huberman studied under Joseph Joachim in Berlin, and by the age of 11 he was already touring Europe as a virtuoso. It was during one of those early tours that he met pianist Arthur Rubinstein, who was only six at the time and had not yet achieved the legendary status that he came to hold. The two musicians remained lifelong friends.

At age 13 Huberman had the honor of performing the Violin Concerto of Johannes Brahms in the presence of the composer himself, who was stunned by his interpretation. According to biographer Max Kalbeck, “As soon as Brahms heard the sound of the violin, he pricked up his ears, during the Andante he wiped his eyes, and after the Finale he went into the green room, embraced the young fellow, and stroked his cheeks. When Huberman complained that the public applauded after the cadenza, breaking into the lovely Cantilena, Brahms replied, ‘You should not have played the cadenza so beautifully.’”

Huberman became one of the most celebrated musicians of his time, but it was in 1929 that his contribution to humanity took on an added dimension. During that year he visited Palestine and came up with the idea to establish a classical music presence there. During Hitler’s rise to power, Huberman had the foresight to realize he could save many Jewish artists while fulfilling his desire to start a Palestinian Orchestra. He auditioned musicians from all over Europe. Those selected for the orchestra would receive contracts and, most importantly, otherwise impossible-to-get exit visas from their homeland to Palestine.

Huberman raised the money for the musicians and then their families, even partnering with Albert Einstein to set up an exhaustive U.S. fundraising trip in 1936. By the end of that tour, the money for the orchestra was secured and 60 top-rate players had been chosen from Germany and Central Europe. All in all, it was a fantastically successful tour, barring one particular performance at Carnegie Hall on February 28. That night he chose to play the second half of his concert on his “other violin,” a Guarneri del Gesù. During the applause following his performance of the Franck Sonata, Huberman’s valet walked on stage to inform him that his Stradivarius had been stolen from his dressing room. The police were called while Huberman tried not to panic, continuing optimistically with his encores. The instrument had previously been stolen in 1919 from a hotel room in Vienna but was recovered days later when the thief tried to sell it. This time, Huberman was not so lucky.

There are several versions as to exactly how and why the violin was stolen, but what we know for sure is that the instrument ended up in the hands of a young freelance violinist by the name of Julian Altman. Some say his mother convinced him to steal it; others report that he bought if off the actual thief for $100. Regardless, Altman took great pains to conceal the violin’s true identity, covering its lovely varnish with shoe polish and performing on it throughout the rest of his career, which included a stint as first chair with the National Symphony during World War II.

Heartbroken, Huberman never saw his Stradivarius again. However, his great dream was fulfilled when the new Palestine Orchestra made its debut in December 1936 with the great Toscanini on the podium. I like to imagine that my own relatives might have been in the audience on that opening night, as my grandfather was born there and my great grandfather was part of the first “Aliyah” of Russian Jewish immigrants to Palestine in 1882. As for his violin, it was played by its suspected thief for over 50 years, and in 1985 Julian Altman made a deathbed confession to his wife, Marcelle Hall, about the true identity of the instrument. She eventually returned the violin to Lloyd’s of London and received a finder’s fee. The instrument underwent a nine month restoration by J & A Beare Ltd., which noted it was like “taking dirt off the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.”

The instrument was then sold to the late British violinist Norbert Brainin of the Amadeus String Quartet. Previous to my fortuitous encounter with the violin at J & A Beare, Brainin had once let me play it after a rehearsal of the Mozart G-minor String Quintet, which I had the pleasure of playing with him one evening in the 1990s. “One day you might be lucky enough to have such a violin,” he had said prophetically.

And so here I was in 2001, buying some strings at the violin shop and I was introduced to the 1713 Stradivarius again. As it was handed to me, I was told it was being sold to a wealthy German industrialist for his private collection. However, after playing only a few notes on it I vowed that this would not happen. This was an instrument meant to be played, not just admired. I fell in love with it right away, and even performed that very night on it at the Royal Albert Hall. I simply did not want it to leave my hands.

This violin is special in so many ways. It is overwhelming to think of how many amazing people have held it and heard it. When I perform in Israel with the Israel Philharmonic, I am always touched to think how many of the orchestra and audience members are direct descendants of the musicians Huberman saved from the Holocaust—with funds raised by concerts performed on the very same instrument I play every day. Who knows what other adventures will come to my precious violin in the years to come? While it certainly will be enjoyed and admired long after I am not around anymore, for the time being I count myself incredibly lucky to be its caretaker.

jbuck919
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Re: The Huberman Violin

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Feb 06, 2018 8:36 pm

All I can say is, I'm stunned and thank you, Hank

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

maestrob
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Re: The Huberman Violin

Post by maestrob » Wed Feb 07, 2018 12:19 pm

What a fabulous story! Thanks for posting that. I, too, am stunned. :)

Lance
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Re: The Huberman Violin

Post by Lance » Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:46 pm

Absolutely wonderful story. Just my kind of reading!
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barney
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Re: The Huberman Violin

Post by barney » Thu Feb 08, 2018 1:10 am

Yes, I loved it too. But he passes over how he managed to beat the collector, who presumably had pots of money, and I would have liked to know that.

jbuck919
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Re: The Huberman Violin

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Feb 08, 2018 2:04 am

barney wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 1:10 am
Yes, I loved it too. But he passes over how he managed to beat the collector, who presumably had pots of money, and I would have liked to know that.
Oh for heaven's sake, he has family money. How do you think anyone affords a priceless instrument unless it is on loan?

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Ricordanza
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Re: The Huberman Violin

Post by Ricordanza » Thu Feb 08, 2018 7:24 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 2:04 am
Oh for heaven's sake, he has family money.
I didn't know that. I was also wondering how he beat the collector.

barney
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Re: The Huberman Violin

Post by barney » Fri Feb 09, 2018 10:19 pm

Sometimes it could be a wealthy patron, today (not then) it could be crowdfunding, it could be a massive loan underwritten by someone. Do you know he has family money, or that simply a logical assumption?

jbuck919
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Re: The Huberman Violin

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Feb 10, 2018 9:35 am

barney wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 10:19 pm
Sometimes it could be a wealthy patron, today (not then) it could be crowdfunding, it could be a massive loan underwritten by someone. Do you know he has family money, or that simply a logical assumption?
Elizabeth Pitcairn, whom I doubt you ever heard of, is the music director of the extremely local (to me) Lake Luzerne music festival. She plays a Strad that was bought outright by her grandfather. It is in fact the Strad that was the inspiration for the movie The Red Violin. If anyone knows different, please post, but there is little doubt in my mind that Joshua Bell's instrument was purchased specifically for him.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Modernistfan
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Re: The Huberman Violin

Post by Modernistfan » Sat Feb 10, 2018 1:36 pm

This reminds me of the Stradivarius violin stolen from Roman Totenberg's office after a 1980 concert. It was stolen by a former student of Totenberg, Philip S. Johnson, who had a lot of potential, but was personally erratic and difficult and never had much of a career. He did play the Strad in some concerts and it was not noticed; Totenberg, who lived to the age of 101, never got it back. After Johnson's death, some 35 years after the violin was stolen, his ex-wife found the violin and took it to a violin dealer. It was authenticated as the Strad formerly belonging to Totenberg and the police were notified. The violin was eventually returned to Totenberg's three daughters (one of whom, Nina Totenberg, is the NPR correspondent reporting on the Supreme Court), and the violin is to be restored and sold to a virtuoso violinist.

barney
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Re: The Huberman Violin

Post by barney » Mon Feb 12, 2018 4:58 pm

It must be unutterably tragic to suffer such a loss, and never know what happened. Like a family member who goes missing.

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