Where President Trump bought a viola for Emperor Naruhito

Where President Trump bought a viola for Emperor Naruhito


norman lebrecht

May 28, 2019

President Trump yesterday presented a viola to the new Emperor of Japan, an enthusiastic player.

What’s its provenance?

Slipped Disc has learned that the viola was sold to the US State Department by a violin shop in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was made in 1938 by Ivan W. Allison of Charleston, West Virginia.

Message from Joe Joyner, owner of the Little Rock Violin Shop:

On April 30th I heard a news story that Japan’s Emperor Akihito was stepping down and that his son, Naruhito, would be taking his place. 24 hours later I received a call from the U.S. State Department seeking an American made viola to give as a diplomatic gift. Shortly after this call, I began seeing news stories about Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito being a violist.

Nearly a month later, I can now say that last week I sold the Emperor’s new viola, an instrument made in 1938 by Ivan W. Allison of Charleston, West Virginia. The instrument was presented to Emperor Naruhito by President Donald Trump today.



  • Nick says:

    A thoughtful and quite an unusual present to an Emperor, particularly from someone like President Trump! A great idea! Bravo Trump!

    • Patricia Yeiser says:

      And what would former Pres Obama have given, pray? Old recordings from MoTown?

      • Max Raimi says:

        Back when Obama was still a senator, he narrated Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” with the Chicago Symphony before thousands at Millennium Park; I was thrilled to take part, and to this day treasure a photo that a colleague took of me with the future president.
        It is not easy for a non musician to execute this narration, to sync up correctly with the music. A couple of years ago John Malkovich thoroughly botched it with the CSO and Muti. But Senator Obama clearly prepared with great care and acquitted himself admirably. It was obvious to all of us that he had great respect for us and for what we did; his daughters both studied violin.
        I can no more imagine Trump managing that narration than I can imagine him performing the Bartok Viola Concerto

    • Petros LInardos says:

      Bravo Trump for (most probably) accepting the State Department’s recommendation.

  • Simon A Bird says:

    A thoughtfully appropriate and intelligent gift – so presumably nothing T***p was connected with…

    • Patricia Yeiser says:

      Back off the US President. Keep your snide comments for your own government. In any case, our State Department protocol people work on these, as does I assume your Foreign Office.

      • Bruce says:

        LOL. I think it’s perfectly appropriate for our president to be criticized (or straight-up made fun of) by people all over the world. After all, Americans feel no compunction about doing the same thing to May, Macron, Merkel, Putin etc etc etc.

      • Paul from the United States says:

        A thoughtfully appropriate and intelligent gift – so presumably nothing T***p was connected with…

  • fierywoman says:

    His violin sold in 2009 for about $500…

  • Psychiatrist says:

    With so many excellent American luthiers working today this is surely a missed opportunity.

    • Patricia Yeiser says:

      I agree that an instrument maker in Boston would have been preferable, but the choice of a viola was still a good one. The State Department isn’t informed about historically-informed instruments. Nor I expect are you…back to your patients and their pathetic problems, real and imagined.

      • Anmarie says:

        Are you the twin sister of “Sue’?

      • Mary says:

        Please go away, Patricia. Your comments will have no bearing on the opinions of educated people. I’m sorry it bothers you that we think Traitor Trump has sullied the office, but not as sorry as I am for the destruction of our institutions. You obviously hate Obama, but you have to admit, but he wasn’t a liar/conman/illiterate/racist/misogynist. It wasn’t embarrassing to be an American back then.

  • anonymous says:

    To do what with, play hillbilly music? The highest auction price achieved for an Ivan W. Allison violin was a staggering $500.

  • Paul says:

    maybe he can play some American music for viola on it such the William Walton Viola Concerto … Oops! That is British. Or maybe the Lachrymae by Benjamin Britten … Darn, that’s also British. hmmm, so what are the great American works for viola? Surely there must be something out there that deserves to be played.

    • Stuart says:

      American Viola Project
      This page includes select scores for viola by American composers made freely available for the benefit of our members. For compositions after 1922, please note that the copyright remains with the composer or the composer’s estate. Members may download, print, and copy the following pieces for the purposes of study, dissemination, and performance.

      Barton, David M. Fandango Pizza Waltz
      Behrend, Jeanne Lamentation for Viola and Piano
      Block, Frederick Sonata for Viola and Piano
      Blood, Blanche Barcarolle
      Cobert, Bob Music for Only One Lonely Viola
      Three Moods for Two Violas
      Crosmer, Jonathan Autumn Suite for Solo Viola
      Duet in A for Violin and Viola
      Enduring Earth and Sky for Viola and Contrabass
      Heroic Variations for Violin, Clarinet (or Viola), and Piano
      Lullaby in C for Solo Viola
      Under the Sun for Viola and Piano
      Cutter, Benjamin Eine Liebes-Novelle (A Love Story) for Viola and Piano
      Duke, John Suite for Viola Alone
      Etler, Alvin Sonata for Viola and Harpsichord: Viola Part
      Sonata for Viola and Harpsichord: Harpsichord Part
      Foote, Arthur Melody for Viola and Piano, op. 44a
      Forsyth, Cecil The Dark Road: For Viola Solo and String Orchestra
      Fricker, Peter Racine Fantasy for Viola and Piano
      Fuerstner, Carl Two Pieces for Viola and Piano
      Gardner, Maurice Concertino for Viola and Chamber Orchestra (Piano Reduction)
      Concordia: Sonata for Viola and Piano
      Micrologus: Sonata for Viola and Piano
      Phantasmagoria for Solo Viola
      Sonata No. 4 for Viola and Piano
      Suite for Violin and Viola
      Tricinium: Sonata for Solo Viola
      Variations on The King’s Hunting Jigg for Solo Viola (written under the pseudonym Allesandro Gardano)
      Hong, Alice Viola Sonata No. 1
      Huss, Henry Holden Sonata (Movement) for Viola and Piano
      Isenberg, Rex Doublet for Two Violas
      Kerr, Louise Lincoln Etude for Violin and Viola
      Klumpkey, Julia Lullaby for Viola and Piano
      Kreutzer/Vardi Kreutzer ’44 (Étude No. 2 with Piano Accompaniment)
      Langstroth, Ivan Viola Suite
      Loeffler, Charles Martin Quatre Poëmes: La Cloche Fêlée Op. 5, no. 1
      Loeffler, Charles Martin Quatre Poëmes: Dansons la Gigue! Op. 5, no. 2
      Quatre Poëmes: Le son du cor s’afflige vers les bois Op. 5, no. 3
      Quatre Poëmes: Sérénade Op. 5, no. 4
      McLoskey, Lansing Wild Bells
      Meyer, Jessica Released, for solo viola
      Pietsch, Edna Frida Andante Cantabile for Viola and Piano
      Porter, Quincy Little Trio for Flute, Violin, and Viola
      Speed Etude
      Suite for Viola Alone
      Pychowski, J. N. Perpetual Canon for Violin and Viola (1853)
      Ream, Michael Rainy Day Dances for Viola and Cello
      Suite for Violin and Viola
      Rohde, Kurt fluttertude for solo viola
      Rowen, Claudia Rowen’s Choice
      Slee, Frederick Variations on a Hymn Tune
      Scott, Steven Olive the Dog
      Tater’s Haircut
      Strube, Gustav Regrets, for Viola and Piano
      Svečenski, Louis 25 Technical Exercises for Viola
      Thomas, Theodore Divertissement for Viola and Piano
      Weed, Kevin Nocturne and Scherzo, for viola and organ
      Zitterbart, Fidelis, Jr. Sonata No. 2 in G Minor for Viola and Piano
      Three Pieces for Viola and Piano

    • Joseph says:

      There are pieces are there to be played and listened if you bothered to take the time rather than dashing off a snide remark. After all, Bartok was living in the US when he wrote his Viola Concerto.

      You could also check out the viola concerti from these American composers –
      Walter Piston
      Samuel Adler
      John Harbison
      Jennifer Higdon
      Quincy Porter

      And while you’re at it, there’s the Viola Sonata by George Rochberg, the Fantastic Variations on a Theme from Tristan and Isolde by William Bergsma, or even more adventurously, Pulse Aria/Achoo Lullaby for Viola, Live Electronics and Tape by Stephen Andrew Taylor.

      Plenty of music and pieces to explore.

    • Patricia Yeiser says:

      Instruments play all kinds of music. The provenance isn’t important.

    • Max Raimi says:

      Paul Schoenfield wrote a fine viola concerto.

    • Robert Roy says:

      Try the Quincey Porter Viola Concerto.

    • Robert Roy says:

      Just realised there’s no ‘e’ in Quincy

    • Jerry says:

      Quincy Porter’s numerous works for viola, William Schuman’s Concerto on English Rounds, Jennifer Higdon’s concerto

      Those will get you started.

    • Mark says:

      I don’t understand your logic. Do British musicians only perform pieces by British composers on British made string instruments?

      There aren’t many great works for viola by any composer haha especially when compared to those available to violinists and pianists but there are a number of fantastic viola pieces by American composers. I can recommend a few that are now standard in the repertoire.
      Carter – Elegy
      Clarke – Sonata
      Hovhaness – Talin-Concerto
      Piston – Interlude

  • JPAULO says:

    Don’t even get me started. Trump seemingly doing all he can to NOT support the arts in the USA !!
    Simply astonishing. Yet not. Ughhh….

    • Patricia Yeiser says:

      Presidents have much on their plates. It would be good if he made a major speech on the arts, but he’s rather busy. Pres Obama’s idea of ‘art’ was to go to Gnu York City and a Broadway show. Not exactly high culture. And rap at the White House? I don’t think that is what you had in mind, or was it?

  • Tom Seligman says:

    Violas of the world unite! This could prove to be the one and only redeeming moment of the Trump presidency.

    • Patricia Yeiser says:

      Bugger off, little boy. You know nothing about what the President is trying to do , that former Presidents have avoided. North Korea, the Chinese trade imbalance. getting other NATO countries to pay their fair share – and giving a boost to the American economy. Perchance Mrs Trump can worry about the arts, but keep your narrow lefty whingings for another occasion.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Trump is boon to the coal industry, bigotism, and climate change denial.

      • Bruce says:

        Haha, this is great stuff 😀 Keep it coming!

      • Peter J says:

        To Patricia Yeiser,
        I am interested by your various comments regarding Trump on this post. But I cannot tell whether i) they are written in irony, to mock stereotypical Trump supporters, or ii) you actually are one.
        I think most people accept that Trump is a divisive figure, who is not afraid of controversy, and who readily, energetically criticises and attacks those he disagrees with.
        If you are a Trump supporter, may I ask why you object so strongly to criticism, when he does exactly the same thing only much more so, himself ?
        Thank you.

      • Bill says:

        The President* doesn’t know anything about what he’s trying to do, either! Witness his claims that the Chinese exporters pay the tariffs he imposes…

  • steven holloway says:

    The site lrculturevulture also learned about this, and somewhat sooner. Last evening I checked out Allison instruments and, though no violas were listed, the highest auction price for an Allison violin is given as approximately $600US. The WH didn’t exactly push the boat out for the Emperor. Still, a nice curiosity for the collection. I should be pleased, though, if it gives a boost to the Little Rock Violin Shop, a rare treasure of a place.

    • Patricia Yeiser says:

      Some time in the future, that viola, if played and kept in good fettle, will be worth more than your miserable life. There aren’t many Guarneris and Amatis around that aren’t in private collections.

      • Ainslie says:

        And what has gone wrong with your day that you feel you must engage in ad hominem attacks, seemingly without provocation?

      • Stan says:

        Who has a miserable life? This is called projection. “Trumpo” does it all the time: accusing others of exactly the thing he is guilty of, as if we don’t notice. You’re so defensive about your much-despised “president” you have to answer every comment. Maybe this isn’t the right forum for you; I think there are some right wing websites where you might feel more at home.

  • Brian says:

    I wonder how they settled on this maker. I’m sure he makes fine violas but did Trump and his goons look for a maker from out in the “real America” – i.e. someone not based on the coasts?

  • Patricia Yeiser says:

    Good for our State Department. What a perfect choice. Now, some one should teach him about gut rather than steel-wound strings. They play and sound so much better.

    • Larry W says:

      Each instrument has its own unique playing characteristics which can only be determined by playing. Generalizations about string type are therefore rather ignorant.

      The gifted viola has Peter Infeld PI strings, some of the best sounding made. It was set up to optimum sound by the shop owner, an excellent luthier and an accomplished violist.

    • Miss Kay says:

      Patricia, your comment about gut strings shows that you are not well informed on this subject.

      But you have been successful in expressing your dislike of the following:

      psychiatric patients and their problems, real and imagined
      “Little boys” Tom and Brian who dared criticize Trump
      Narrow lefty whingings

      The last one I thank you for, as it prompted me to look up “whingings” and learn a new word–one we don’t commonly use in the U.S.

      When you say Trump is rather busy, were you aware that he has spent more than twice as many days golfing as Obama did in the same time period, costing taxpayers three times more ($102 million and counting)? Is this how you “Drain the Swamp”?

      Do you understand why parents don’t want their kids to watch our current president on television? They never know who he’ll attack or make fun of. He’s a terrible example of a human being.

      Also, though you appear to be opposed to introspection, have you ever thought about the concept of internalized misogyny? Is it possible you may have been abused and would rather identify with your abuser than feel small and powerless?

      How about this: if you were ever a working musician, do you realize that Republican policies hurt musicians? That’s why you’ll encounter so much pushback on a site like this. We’re artists; thoughtful intellectuals from all over the world, some of us gay, some of us trans, some of us Asian, some of us Jewish. We could never look like you, even if we wanted to. Can you consider embracing your fellow musician and music lover, even if they’re different from you?

      • George says:

        You should include rap music, Broadway musicals, and New York City on that list. It takes great effort to lash out at all perceived threats. The fact is, Trumpo the Clown has brought tremendous shame to our nation.

  • Patricia Yeiser says:

    And, Presidents don’t “buy” gifts for foreign dignitaries. The State Department provides them. I suppose one could argue that the American taxpayer ‘bought’ it. Still a superb choice. I hope he plays Mozart, who played viola when he played chamber music. And it was Vaughan-Williams’s choice as well.

  • Ed says:

    Now he can play Hindemith.

  • fflambeu says:

    I am sure it will go directly into storage without ever being played. Trump should have given him Nero’s violin which he has kept and plays every day.

  • REGERFAN says:

    By law, the President of the United States cannot give a dipolmatic gift with a value of greater than $2000.

  • Nick2 says:

    Perhaps someone in the State Department reads Slipped Disc!

    But if the Allison viola is only worth less than $1,000 or so, I can’t imagine it will be anywhere near the Emperor’s first choice. He’s bound to have a number of violas, including a more than decent Chinese-made instrument! After all, since it’s known he plays the viola, he must have received quite a number as gifts.

    • fflambeau says:

      The Japanese and Chinese are hardly friends. They hate each other.

      I doubt that the Emperor of Japan has any Chinese made instruments.

      • Nick2 says:

        Yet another simplistic and childish comment in this thread. How many Japanese companies are operating in China? Vast numbers! How many Chinese tourists are visiting Japan? Vast numbers! Fact. More Chinese visit Japan than any other nationality! Funny ideas of hate!

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Are there any high quality luthiers based in Japan?

  • steven holloway says:

    Ms Yeiser, Although we have, so far, the evidence of your ten comments on this one thread, I’m still not sure if you’re a comic from SNL, Trump’s Deputy Assistant Press Secretary’s apprentice, Sue Sonata Form under another new screen name, or what. But please stop these ad hominem/feminam rather blunt arrows of rebuke. They are offensive by definition, but in a ‘schoolyard’ way, so very childish and chauvinistic as to add nothing to the discussion in its musical aspect nor in its political.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    If the President was operating under a mandatory $2000 spending limit that rules out the big name/big city fiddle shops and big name luthiers right out of the gate.

    So the viola in question does not have a “big name” associated with it either for maker or the shop that sold it , and thus carries a decidedly modest value, but after many decades of trying out instruments that I can and cannot afford, at shops in big cities and small, from stand partners and teachers, not to mention the odd garage sale now and then, I am prepared to believe that this might well be a rather nice viola. I’ve tried out some real mystery instruments and have been pleasantly surprised, particularly if it carries a real person’s name and not just the usual fake Strad label. It pays to be open minded and curious when it comes to string instruments. There are bargains to be had out there if you are.

    And I strongly suspect the Emperor will give it a good workout, and not just out of politeness. What real string player wouldn’t?

    • Bill says:

      “What real string player wouldn’t?”

      Easy — the one who tries it out and realizes that it’s a VSO…life is too short to play a crummy viola for more than a few minutes. Even if you’re a violist 🙂

      Now, it is possible that the instrument in question is not a complete piece of junk. I still think it extremely unlikely that the Emperor of Japan, born in a family of musicians, hasn’t had an opportunity in the more than 30 years he has played to acquire a viola that is far superior to this one, made by a maker whose record price at auction is less than the typical price for factory-made Chinese instruments of moderate quality. This one will be played a few times out of politeness, and then stashed away in some closet. I doubt anyone (except perhaps Patricia Yeiser) would be saying “today, I think I’ll play my treasured viola given to me by Trump!”

    • Rgiarola says:

      I would for sure, but after some classical pranks about viola and their players. No no my dears, I’m just joking now 😉