Strad fail: Sotheby’s cannot sell $45 million ex-Amadeus viola

Strad fail: Sotheby’s cannot sell $45 million ex-Amadeus viola


norman lebrecht

June 26, 2014

After weeks of almost unprecendented hype, London dealers Ingles & Hayday failed at Sotheby’s last  night to get a price for the Macdonald Strad, formerly owned by Peter Schidlof of the Amadeus Quartet. The price being mooted was a record, ridiculous $45 million.

The dealers used every gimmick on the PR handbook short of having a soloist fall onto the instrument, but the market was not interested. A shamefaced Sotheby’s has yet to tweet the result. After last week’s failure by Christies to shift a $10 million Kreutzer Strad, it looks as if some sanity may return to the top end of instrument prices.

Which is good news for everyone – unless you own one.

Staff member puts the 'Macdonald' viola made by Italian artisan Stradivari on a stand during a preview at Sotheby's gallery in Hong Kong



  • Tor Fromyhr says:

    Thank goodness this nonsense has ended. It is a tragedy that the best young (and old) musicians can’t afford to own these instrument and the lucky ones get to borrow them from Banks, benifactors or corporations. We are, after all, merely purchasing the right to be custodians of these instruments, protecting them for future generations.

  • Nicolo Eugelmi says:

    Well said, Tor. We musicians have become beggars, pleading to play a fine instrument for a period of 2-5 years instead of proudly owning one for a lifetime. Investors have pushed them out of our grasp, and they can’t even play them. Dealers win financially as well, and the musicians lose. Again.

  • Greta Bernstein says:

    I agree with the above comment, that “this nonsense has ended”. I followed the lead up to this sale closely, as I am interested in the art of violin making and am an amateur violinist and always wanted to be a violin maker, having even studied it in my 20’s and 30’s in Italy.

    I think that this “Macdonald” Strad viola might have sold albeit at a slightly lower price had it not been for the irritating ‘show biz’ over hype that was constantly and unrelentingly hanging over it for the past three months. By far, the most overtly offensive hype was the involvement of the young violist David Carpenter, who I never even heard of until this heavy over hype started, where he continually pushed and pushed the instrument, putting on ‘gimmick’ concerts billed as ‘The Most Expensive Concert in the World’ and even ostentatiously billing himself as “The Fifty Million Dollar Violist” and other silly, crass and offensive “tricks”. The cherry on the cake was earlier this week, when, by accident, I saw on Fox Business News this same Carpenter boy presenting the ‘Macdonald” Strad as a great business investment, together with his violinist brother. The whole thing looked like a cross between cold corporate analysis and crass commercialism. I had to break out in laughter when the two of them “played” an absolutely atrocious piece of music, which they called “The Fight”, which was just sawing and abusing of such a fine instrument! I couldn’t believe my ears and I had no less than five string player friends tweeting and texting me after they watched this massacre of a great and noble instrument, being demonstrated as a great investment with a nonsensical piece by an unknown composer called “The Fight”. The name tells it all. How could Sotheby’s have allowed this sacrilege to have taken place? No wonder it didn’t sell. With champions like what I saw and heard, who needs enemies?

    • Mehmet Bardiz says:

      I was also fed-up and disgusted with the cheap and “crass” way that Sotheby’s allowed the sale of this “great and noble instrument” to be managed, allowing a young unknown flashy wannabe violist overkill and overhype it and try to hype himself at the same time. It probably contributed greatly to the failure of selling the instrument, even if it was overpriced.

      On correction though. You mention that this Carpenter kid billed himself as “The 50 Million Dollar Violist”, which is tasteless and “crass” enough in and of itself. (How did Sotheby’s allow such vulgar chicanery?) He actually did worse than that and billed himself as “The $50+ Million Dollar Violist” Somehow he alone increased the sale price of the “Macdonald” by a meagre and “meaningless” 5 million dollars, without asking anyone’s permission. He even plastered it all over his self-gratifying website:

      It is indeed no wonder that this instrument didn’t sell. This should be a wake-up call for Sotheby’s, in being more careful in choosing partners with integrity, modesty and sincerity and a real track record in promoting great string instruments.

      Let’s all hope that this failure will be a wake-up call and get the sales of valuable and rare string instruments back to a more sane and intelligent basis.

      • Max Grimm says:

        I agree with all that has been said. To spare the poor “Carpenter boy” any undue tongue-lashings, looking at the picture in this New York Times article (link below) of him posing with his brother and sister in their Manhattan home, he may very well quite literally be a $50m violist.

        • Bill says:

          This entire Macdonald Strad story has been tasteless from the outset. I am a member of one of the major U.S. big five orchestras and many of my colleagues and I followed this Strad sale with great interest and were appalled, as were a few readers here how Sotheby’s overkilled and ‘prostituted’ the sale of this great instrument, which is, in fact, a work of art. Allowing a 20 something aspiring violist to become the spokesperson for such a masterpiece, and even worse, allowing it to be demonstrated with vulgar unknown circus type music certainly didn’t help this sale. It was all badly managed by Sotheby’s. A sale like this required serenity, discretion, very serious music making (not some circus act!) As a general rule, individuals who are truly wealthy, and who have any class or dignity, don’t go around shouting from the rooftops and putting a price tag on their professional worth in public, before they are even established. This is in extremely poor taste for a young person in the serious arts world and, as was mentioned earlier, vulgar, with a capital ‘V’.

          I’m pleased that this Strad viola didn’t sell for the outrageous price that it was listed at, nor for the Vulgar way that Sotheby’s hyped it

          • Max Grimm says:

            You couldn’t have put it better, Bill. Unfortunately it seems to be the trend in this day and age for wealthy individuals to flaunt their wealth in the most ostentatious and garish manner possible, regardless of their background or profession. I am from Germany and well remember the days when it was considered to be utterly classless to display ones wealth in a flashy way (at least here). The only people who would do so were brushed aside as “uneducated parvenus”. If you take a look at TV shows and mainstream entertainment and culture involving people of wealth, how they are displayed and how they act, it not only shows a serious lack of class on their part but also demonstrates how low-brow we as societies have become.

  • Leo Samama says:

    I am quite happy it could not be sold. The price is ridiculous. My father bought this instrument in the early 1960s as I wrote to Norman and Norman reacted likewise: The MacDonald viola by Stradivarius was purchased by my late father in 1961 at Max Möller’s in Amsterdam for some 300,000 Dutch guilders (US$ 82,872 in 1961 values) and given on loan to be used by Peter Schildlof.
    In those days my parents owned several Stradivarii, which were used by some of the great Dutch musicians of the day. Later, in the seventies, Peter asked my father as a friend since many years to sell the instrument to him, which my father did for the same price as he had paid Möller….
    As I said: just to put the records straight. My father died in 1992, Peter in 1987. So someone had to tell the story….
    On these figures, this ‘priceless’ and ‘finest viola in existence’ changed hands for less than $100,000 around 40 years ago. How is it possible that it should now be worth $45 million? It makes no economic sense at all.

    Recently I added another comment myself:
    And so the world goes on. The viola isn’t worth 45 million, not even 10 million. Only the combination of a great musician and a great instrument can make it valuable, though: that much?

    So far for now.

  • Nicolo Eugelmi says:

    Bravo! Beautifully said.