The concert after my violin was stolen

Anthea Kreston, American violinist in the Artemis Quartet, had her violin stolen yesterday afternoon on the Berlin-to-Freiburg train. Last night, she went on stage with the quartet, playing a borrowed instrument. Afterwards, sleepless and resilient, our weekly diarist Anthea went online to tell Slipped Disc readers how she coped.

 

harold and maude

Yesterday afternoon, as I was taking the train with my quartet to Freiburg from Berlin, my violin was stolen. The train was searched, hours were spent in the police station, and when I arrived at the hall for the concert, four incredible and generous violinists were waiting for me, offering their violins for the quickly approaching concert. The details mimic other similar events, but my personal reaction was different than I would have expected.

This violin, a 1928 Carl Becker from Chicago (the first family of makers in the USA – often referred to as the Strads of the States) was a gift from my grandfather. It has been by my side since age 14 – has spent more time with me than any person or thing. It is truly my sidekick. It has my voice – my Chicago accent – and it has stood the test of time and held its ground in concert and competition against many a mightier and loftier instrument. It is a fighter’s instrument with a warm, powerful dark bottom and a top sound which can cut through anything. It is tender and bold, quirky and reliable. It is me.

As I was playing the concert, many things were rushing through my head. This loss, in many ways, sums up my experiences since January. Let go, be open, be yourself no matter what the circumstance.  My voice – all of our musical voices – exists independent of any physical thing. We would be the same musicians if we had an injury, lost our instrument, were in a coma. It is inside. By the time I was part-way through the Shostakovich, I could hear myself in the new violin, coming out slowly.

I started thinking of a man I once met at a concert in upper state New York. He was from Egypt and had a refugee childhood – going from country to country, living hand to mouth. His parents, white collar workers, did everything from working in belt factories to selling food in the streets to survive. He told me what they said – “we can’t give you a home or possessions, but we can help you learn every language of every country we go to, and this will be your tool. Your future.  It isn’t something tangible, but it is very valuable.” He eventually made it to the States, with nothing but the clothes on his back. But, speaking 20 languages opened the door to possibilities and he did make his way.  He was a wonderful and warm man – and in his big beautiful house, he had hidden under the floorboards a year’s worth of rice in a barrel. He said that was the first thing he would do when he moved to a new home. He would bury rice.

This is what I have now. I left my possessions, I brought my family, and this is simply the last of my possessions that I lost. But, it is inside of me. It came out in the concert. It will always come out – even if I am lucky enough to get old enough to not be able to play anymore.

I also, for some reason, keep thinking of the movie Harold and Maude. I haven’t seen it in 15 years but I still have every line memorized. Maude says at one point (she has a love of stealing cars) “Well, if some people get upset because they feel they have a hold on some things, I’m merely acting as a gentle reminder: here today, gone tomorrow, so don’t get attached to things.”  I love Maude.

Maybe this is the magical moment when someone comes forward with an instrument that I can borrow – you know those people who somehow have incredible instruments on loan?  How does that even happen? I don’t have any idea. But – I do have a very bad second violin which I can use, and Gregor has an $89 carbon fiber bow for me. In no time, those will sound just like me too.

 

anthea's violin

UPDATE: The German orchestra association has posted a theft notice.

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  • Losing a long-played-on violin must be heart wrenching. But if you are travelling with an instrument of great value to you, how is it possible for it to be stolen on a train? Did Ms. Kreston leave it on her seat or on the overhead rack whilst off getting a coffee or attending to the call of nature? If so, why on earth did she not take it with her? She does not tell us. Perhaps she fell asleep? Again, I fail to understand why such a valuable instrument is not secured to her person in a way that ensures it is not going to be picked up by any old passer-by!

    • Dear Nick, I find the comment highly insensitive. One moment is all it takes. A child might be kidnapped almost in front of its parents from their beds on the way to school and we call it a tragedy or would you than also blame the parents for lack of love and care? Thieves are crafty predators. I think it’s bad enough this wonderful musician has been deprived of her instrument I’m sure she doesn’t need people pointing fingers and saying: we’ll if it’s so valuable she should have kept it safe a bit better. A bit more compassion and less judgement would be much more humane reaction I would think.

      • Sounds like someone who would blame the parents of a kidnapped child for allowing the child to leave the house by itself. Some people just have an apocalyptic mindset, and aside from prescription medications, there’s not much anyone can do to fix that.

      • Whilst I have sympathy for anyone who loses anything precious to them, I stand by my comments and am certain the questions I ask are the first ones the rail and police authorities asked! I have been with a friend whose bag was stolen from the side of the table where we were having coffee. On the security tapes it was clear that a man at a neighbouring table had used a long umbrella to hook it and slowly drag it towards him. But that bag was clearly marked as a large Louis Vuitton bag and therefore of some resale value. A violin case (for I expect the instrument would have been in its case) surely does not tell whoever looks at it that inside is an ultra cheap brand or a Strad. And how likely is it that a thief on that particular train would even wish to steal a violin unless he/she had some idea that it was worth something – for the chances of being caught with such a large object whilst the train was in motion must far greater than with say, a wristwatch?

        I may be wholly wrong. If so I shall be the first to apologise. But given the sad tale, it is surely of some interest for readers to know the bit that is missed out – how and for how long the instrument was left unattended.

        • Per the initial story (https://slippedisc.com/2016/06/slipped-disc-alert-stop-that-thief/ ) she left her seat — and her violin — to use the bathroom; so, a few minutes. Possibly she didn’t think there was any danger of theft at all; possibly she thought “it will be OK for a few minutes;” possibly she thought it would be safe on a moving train, as opposed to a restaurant in a train station. Possibly she has even already asked herself the very questions you posed, and may plan to handle things differently in the future! Who knows.

  • Dear Anthea, my heart sinks in hearing about the theft of your violin. You mentioned that your instrument is something that stays close to you and becomes part of who you are. That’s so true. My flute was stolen while I was in college. I remember my teacher telling me, “The theft of an instrument feels as if someone has castrated you.” I love how quickly, and the manner in which, you came to the realization that the music is still inside of you. It’s been said that a performance is 95% the player and 5% the instrument. For a great player on your level, that 5% does make a difference. I have faith that whether you’re reunited with your Becker or acquire another violin, your musical “voice” will be as strong as ever and continue to inspire us.

  • My teacher Anthea is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever been blessed to have in my life. Her reaction to this really sucky situation is such a life lesson. Her violin was stolen while en route to perform a concert. Life can really punch you in the face sometimes….Anthea I love you and I love the reminder that the music is inside of you…us…you’re amazing and thank you for the reminder. Xoxo my dear friend.

  • Having lived in Germany for the better part of 30 years and taking the train often, I can well imagine how this theft happened. The violin was most likely neatly stored in the luggage rack above the seat, as it is supposed to be. Everybody puts their luggage away like that, or in designated spaces in the carriage. In theory, anyone can walk by and pick up a suitcase (or violin) and take it away. There have been alerts that thefts occur when in a station – the thief comes into a wagon, grabs something and rushes out of the train again, getting lost in the crowd, taking advantage of the confusion of getting in/out of the trains. But the theft rates in moving trains in Germany are most likely in the low single digit percentage. Either way, a terrible loss for Anthea!

  • Dear Anthea, I am Eric’s Mom, Cathy [for the other readers I am Anthea’s sister’s husband’s mom]. I’m so sorry about your violin and I sure hope you eventually get it back. If not, I hope you find another violin you love and that suits you. I’m sure you will. I have greatly enjoyed the several times I have heard you play (at Eric’s wedding and in concert at Cal Tech) and I will watch for an opportunity to hear you with your quartet.
    I am a geographer and have traveled a great deal for field work and studies in Asia, Europe and elsewhere. I have lugged expensive equipment and precious documents on planes, trains, boats… I know that we try to be vigilant and cautious but we can’t be perfect, especially when we are tired, not feeling well, have too many things to do, etc. Then we can have vulnerable moments and unfortunately there are people out there watching for their opportunity. I recently traveled on trains in Germany and I was aware how easily and quickly someone could pick up the wrong bag and disappear… shit happens …
    I once was traveling to a remote part of China with two big Samsonite suitcases full of my field notes and equipment. I made a layover stop in Hong Kong. One of my bags was on the mechanical baggage belt but the not the other. After everyone left one bag was going around on the belt. It looked just like mine but the tag said it was one of 9 bags belonging to a mining engineer on his way to Mongolia for an assignment. Fortunately the tag had the name of his German company on it. I phoned the company in Germany and they figured out which hotel in Hong Kong he was staying in. We managed to switch bags before either of us had to leave. He would have sorely missed his bag and mine was precious too to me…they looked alike and someone was careless for a moment about checking the tag…that is all it took.
    My story ends well and I hope yours will too!

  • Anthea is such a strong woman setting such a high bar for other women and musicians to follow. I am very sorry to hear about her violin, and in awe of her response. We were lucky in Corvallis to have her here while we did.

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