By Elizabeth Bloom
PITTSBURGH, Penn. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) — It was a family reunion of sorts. But instead of long-lost cousins, this family reconnected with a long-lost violin, once removed.
Thirty-five years ago, a rare Stradivarius violin disappeared, stolen from a music school near Boston. On Thursday, August 6, it was returned to the family of its rightful owner, thanks in large part to a Pittsburgh violin maker who identified the instrument and reported it to the FBI.
Phillip Injeian, who sells and repairs instruments at his shop on Penn Avenue, authenticated the 1734 violin, called the Ames Stradivarius, and determined it had been stolen from renowned violinist Roman Totenberg, who had died in 2012.
The grand violin theft was first described Thursday by Totenberg’s daughter, Nina Totenberg, a reporter for National Public Radio, after the FBI called her to say it had recovered the instrument. She and her sisters retrieved the violin at a ceremony Thursday at the US Attorney’s office in New York, which Injeian attended.
The story has received international attention. The ex-wife of Phillip Johnson, the man believed to have plucked the violin from Totenberg’s office at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass., discovered the instrument while cleaning house in California, NinaTotenberg reported. Because Phillip Johnson is dead, leaving few clues about the violin’s provenance, a musician friend of his ex-wife’s suggested she take it to Injeian, whose client list includes violinists Leonidas Kavakos, Nigel Kennedy, Sidney Harth and Andres Cardenes, former Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concertmaster.
After she sent him photographs of the instrument, the two met in New York City, where Injeian, 59, confirmed it was, indeed, an authentic Stradivarius — one that had been stolen decades earlier. Because Injeian’s brother is a retired federal marshal, the luthier was able to track down the FBI’s art theft team in mere hours, he said. The FBI called Nina Totenberg to further authenticate the instrument and give her the news that her father’s beloved violin had been found, she reported for NPR. His violin bow is still at large.
“It’s a wonderful example of his work, and it’s in excellent shape,” Injeian said Thursday by phone from New York. “It will need some, you know, TLC, but nothing major that couldn’t be taken care of by a competent restorer.” Injeian will be involved in that process.
A native New Yorker, Injeian studied violin making in France and Germany and won several awards in Europe for his craftsmanship. He opened his first shop across from Carnegie Hall in New York City and said he moved to Pittsburgh in 2001 at the encouragement of his Pittsburgh clients, Cardenes and Harth. “It was 9/11, and basically I went through debt, destruction and divorce, enough to make a man want to get away from the insanity,” he said.
Before Injeian moved to Pittsburgh, many local musicians traveled to other cities for instrument repairs, said Cardenes, who has purchased one of his custom violins.
“He’s been instrumental just in the care and maintenance of so many instruments in the symphony,” said Cardenes, a professor of violin at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s an incredible boon to our industry. Without him, it’d be a lot more complicated and more expensive for everybody to take care of their instruments.”
“Phillip is a first-class craftsman, repairman and violin maker that Pittsburgh’s very lucky to have, as he could have a major shop in any city in the world,” said Charles Stegeman, professor of music at Duquesne University and concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Opera and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre orchestras.
Crafted in the golden age of violin making in Italy, Stradivarius instruments are admired as much for their quality as for their rarity. About 550 remain in circulation, many in the hands of premier musicians. The instruments tend to sell for several million dollars, and Mr. Injeian expects the notoriety of the Ames to add to its value. He estimated that he has authenticated about a dozen Stradivarius instruments.
The Ames, Injeian said, is distinctive because it bears the marks not only of Antonio Stradivari but also of his son, Francesco, and his pupil Carlo Bergonzi. The Totenbergs plan to sell the instrument to a performing artist rather than a collector.
This high-profile violin aside, Injeian noted that instruments in his shop start at $500. “Some people might think I only deal with high-end instruments,” he said. “You don’t have to buy a Stradivarius from me.”