Man leaves 1709 violin on London suburban train

Man leaves 1709 violin on London suburban train


norman lebrecht

October 28, 2019

The violinist Stephen Morris has put out a major public alert for his 1709 David Tecchler violin, which he left on the 22.58 London Victoria to Orpington service last Tuesday.

He had been intending to play the violin, worth around £250,000, as concertmaster of two Andrea Boccelli concerts at the weekend.

Instead, he had to borrow an instrument from his wife, Sarah Sexton.

‘It’s devastating to lose it and quite apart from its value, it’s my livelihood,’ he said. ‘I was really only its custodian – one of many people who have played it – and I had hoped to pass it on to another violinist eventually.’




  • highlystrung says:

    Why musicians ‘forget’ or ‘mislay’ their instruments is beyond me – if was on a train with anything half as seminal to my working like (not to mention valuable) it would not have left my hands for a second. Wonder what his wife’s reaction was? Did he end up playing for Boccelli with a black eye? (Not that Boccelli would have noticed or probably even cared)…

    • TishaDoll says:

      Did he have too much to drink?

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Fortunately I have never done this, although my teacher once drove off having failed to load his case into the car after having loaded other stuff. Never found again as I recall even though he only drove a couple of blocks before remembering. “Was it your Amati?” I asked. “No,” he answered, “I would have killed myself over that.”

      I’m almost certain he was joking.

      Musicians have also driven off with the case on the roof of the car — only to see it tumble off in their rear view mirror. I remember a violin case manufacturer used the “testimonial” of one such musician in their ad in The Strad.

      How can this happen? Why? Because while the instrument is a rare and precious thing, after a while for the professional or even busy amateur, it becomes so routine — the “thing in the case” and part of the white noise of everyday life. You drive with it, you walk with it, you travel with it, you check into hotels with it. You bring it with you into the restaurant or while visiting friends. You do all those things without thinking “oh I must bring the fiddle.” Of course you remember it, because you never don’t remember it. Of course you have it, because you never don’t have it. Of course you … uh oh.

      When it is an everyday thing, even trivial “something else’s” can take priority — like the airline pilots who forgot where Minneapolis is a few years ago. Flew right by.
      People forget credit cards, car keys, ashes of loved ones, toddlers … and now we know, David Tecchlers. Let’s hope it was found by an honest person.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Repeat after me the following check-list: ‘testicles, spectacles, wallet and watch’ before any outing or trip.

        Ask yourselves if you’d travel with 250,000 pounds of cash on the train.

    • Philip says:

      Yes. Think of Joshua Bell when he left his violin at the truck stop

    • Karl says:

      It’s well known that Yo Yo Ma left his cello in a cab once. People get distracted sometimes. Maybe these people should just write notes on their hands saying ‘DON’T FORGET THE INSTRUMENT!”

    • Bruce says:

      “Why musicians ‘forget’ or ‘mislay’ their instruments is beyond me…”


    • Althea says:

      According to newspaper reports, Stephen Morris had a bicycle with him: i.e. his hands were full. He got the bike off the train, but left the violin behind. It is a shame that the post doesn’t make this clear. People are being hard on Stephen Morris, owing to lack of background info.

      Violin cases are quite an awkward size to manage on public transport. I once left my violin (worth a mere £650.00!) on a Thameslink train many years ago – because I was carrying several other instruments too – and forgot that I had put the violin in the overhead rack. I checked that I had my oboe and everything else, but forgot that on this occasion I had a violin with me as well. I was on my way to a teaching engagement. Fortunately, I went straight back to Harpenden station when I realised what had happened, and they phoned through to Bedford, where the violin was taken off that train and sent down to City Thameslink the next day, as lost property. I collected it a couple of days later, and was thankful. I was also very careful never to use the overhead racks again. I am accustomed to carrying around a double oboe/cor anglais case (+ gig bag, etc.) which is much easier to keep by one all the time on a crowded train, than a violin case. Having said that, if I were specialist violinist with an expensive, historic instrument, I would NEVER ride a bike with it, under ANY circumstances. Hopefully Stephen will get a taxi to and from the station in future: or walk.

      So, that’s the story of how even careful musicians can leave instruments behind: many things to carry
      + much travelling + much fatigue.

  • V.Lind says:


  • sam says:

    Like parents who forget their infants in their cars with the window rolled up on a hot summer day, so too must violinists who forget their violins on trains have their violins taken away from them and put in the foster care of better

    • John Borstlap says:

      Such things can get complicated. In 2016, a Parisian professional clairvoyant knew in advance that she would forget her cristal ball in a cab on a tuesday, and, to prevent this from happening, avoided travelling by cab on tuesdays and taking the bus instead. But then, on such tuesday, the bus had an accident and she was one of the lightly-wounded passengers who were taken to a hospital by a cab which happened to be at that crossing, and then and there she still forgot her ball.

      • Don Fatale says:

        I’m totally sure that hasn’t been embellished in the telling over the years. Would make a nice short story.

  • Musicians forget their instruments all the time, mostly in trains and taxis. It is not difficult to do when one is exhausted and distracted with various stresses. Like all people, musicians also do a lot of traveling without instruments, and sometimes forget when they are. I wonder if there might be a market for a small tracking device that could be hidden in instruments or their cases.

    • Jsot says:

      Once I was told a famous french violinist had a LoJack hunter device installed in the neck of his precious instrument so he can go have some pints and next day pick it up wherever it was. Also a couple of years ago I remember seeing the advertisement of a case that included GPS tracking by a new unknown brand, don’t know if it survived the elevated price tag.

    • Mr. Knowitall says:

      Last I checked, there were at least two tracking devices made for instrument cases: Tempo Cases and Trackimo.

    • Nick2 says:

      If Mr. Morris had been carrying a bag full of £250,000 in cash, I’ll bet he would not have forgotten it! Of course people forget things on trains and in other ways all the time. But when there is an instrument that is your livelihood – whatever its value, there have to be ways of affixing the case to one’s person (a strap around the shoulders?) so that it simply can not be “forgotten”.

      • Mr. Knowitall says:

        If Mr. Morris carried around a bag full of 250k cash daily until it ceased to be a novelty, he might have forgotten he had it with him.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I know of a conductor who always kept a folding baton in his pocket for the occasions he forgot his wooden one in cabs, trains, planes, busses, or at home, at the management office, the restaurant, the brasserie, the mistress. The only time he was forced to use it, it was so rusted that it folded in mid-air all the time during a performance of Mahler II which considerably influenced his interpretation.

  • mezzodiva54 says:

    There is a famous story about the (former) principal violist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra leaving his viola in the driveway, getting into his car, and backing over the instrument.

  • Larry W says:

    This potential loss of a great instrument is understandably devastating to the owner. What I don’t understand is why in such cases the high value is advertised. Send out notices, certainly, but why not say it is an inexpensive instrument of sentimental value only? Any violin shop would recognize it as being authentic. Also, a reward would help insure its safe return.

    • anon says:

      First, it could be noted that the notice was not circulated immediately (at the time of posting, the event had happened six days ago), suggesting that the player (or the insurer or the police) may have been employing precisely the strategy of *not* advertising the value in the first instance.

      As for why one would advertise the value, it encourages people who may know something to take the issue more seriously. On 23rd May 2016, I left a coat on the train, and realised the fact about 15 minutes after disembarking. I immediately went back to the relevant station (London Liverpool Street) and reported it to the train staff and the lost property office, and was met with a complete lack of concern. In the subsequent weeks, I went back to the lost-property office a few times to ask whether the coat had been found, and the staff were just completely ambivalent and unprofessional (lost-property services at stations managed by Network Rail are outsourced to the Excess Baggage Company, who are concerned only with making a profit from their overpriced luggage storage services, and seem not to care about lost property at all, unless they can make lots of money by virtue of sending it to you by courier). What really upsets me is that my business card was in one of the coat pockets (it is my wont to leave a business card in my coats, wallets, bags, &c., precisely so that, in the event of being mislaid, the finder could contact me — I even wrote my electronic-mail address on the lid of my reusable coffee-cup, but alas, it must have fallen out of the side-pocket of my bag somewhere in the vicinity of Manchester Piccadilly station on 10th September 2019, and I have yet to hear from anyone about it) — why did nobody search the pockets to try and establish the identity of the owner?

      So, the point I want to make from my rant is that, perhaps advertising the value of the lost item is a way of encouraging lost-property offices, the police, and members of the public to take the matter seriously, and make a more proactive effort to reunite the violin with its owner/custodian. No doubt, an insurance company or police officer accustomed to dealing with such matters would be able to comment in more detail on the reasoning.

  • A follow-up to “The Red Violin” might be a movie just about all the times a violin has been mislaid in its life… cabs, carriages, steamships, speakeasies, hat check rooms, flop houses, strippers’ living rooms…

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Stephen Morris – pretty dumb mistake, dude.
    I was a free-lance percussionist for almost 30 years, and I had to carry all sorts of instruments, big and small, valuable and non-valuable, my own or borrowed, to gigs on many conveyances – my car, carpools, “band vans”, public transit – and I never lost even one drumstick.
    If I had a £250,000 instrument I was gigging with, and I needed to take public transit to make the date, the damned thing would be handcuffed to my wrist.
    Perhaps – just speculating here – it was a case of one too many Guinnesses after the gig?

  • Marji says:

    Violinists are no more tired than any other busy professional. Those of us in business with expensive laptops that are essential to our livelihood dont leave them on trains or buses. We learn to hang onto them, pack them into the car and not leave them on the roof, etc.

    • Robert King says:

      One report states that on London Underground in one year 34,322 mobile phones, 1078 laptops and even 10 desktop computers made it to the lost property store. That doesn’t count the ones that were picked up and not handed in. But maybe none of those were lost by “business” people who never, ever forget anything?

      More widely, when someone (especially a really nice couple like Stephen and Sarah, who somehow juggle busy, top-level, freelance, touring, session-playing, concert-gigging lives with family life, childcare, school runs etc) has suffered a dreadful fate, however caused, isn’t that one moment to be sympathetic to them? Or is nowadays, at least in the world of “business”, showing human kindness to be frowned upon?

      • Bruce says:

        Empathy is for losers (apparently).

      • Nick2 says:

        Unlikely that any one of those mobile phones, laptops and desktops were worth much more than £5,000. Further, all were relatively easily replaceable (even though recovery of the data might be bothersome and take some time). There is frankly zero comparison with a violin worth a quarter of a million pounds!

        • Robert King says:

          My comment was directed at the lady who suggested that “business” people are somehow more perfect than musicians, in that people of commerce apparently never make a mistake and never lose an item that is central to their work.

          As has been posted by people elsewhere on this strand, at a time of such crisis would empathy perhaps be a kinder way to react? Steve, in a moment of forgetfulness at the end of a long and tiring day leading the RPO, made a mistake. Shouldn’t criticism now be reserved for the person who apparently looks to have stolen this violin?

  • sycorax says:

    Probably it was “Freud’sch” like his subconsciousness absolutely refusing to work with Bocelli? I could understand it …

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Hi wife plays in the Callino STring Quartet.
    Surely in the household she should have been the one using the expensive instrument, not the session musician husband.

    • Robert King says:

      Don’t worry on Sarah’s part – she gets to play some lovely instruments too. As well as her modern work she is a terrific period instrument player (she was concertmaster for TKC’s large-scale Mendelssohn project in mainland Europe last summer).

      To suggest that her husband, leading the RPO as he was, should play anything but his best instrument seems an odd concept. Why would he not? And might some of the more charitable SD readers think it a little less than kind to describe him as “the session musician husband” – leading the RPO doesn’t come without a serious degree of competence.

      • Anon says:

        I get the distinct impression that many SD readers are not professional musicians. Both Steve and Sarah are highly respected London musos; to suggest that the husband should play an inferior instrument as he’s a “session musician” and RPO leader is completely erroneous!

  • Vaquero357 says:

    Some fairness and understanding for the poor fellow whose violin is missing: When you schlep around an item every day of your life, the likelihood is pretty high that, in an off moment when you’re distracted, you might forget it *once*. If that once happens when you’re getting off a train or out of a cab……

    A little compassion for the man; none of us is perfect!

  • Marlan Barry says:

    Please don’t be so quick to judge. It’s happened to the best of us. Life can be overwhelming and the gigging life exhausting. My friend lost his violin on the subway and never saw it again. Yo-Yo left his cello in a taxi once and got lucky. I myself forgot to put my bow back in its case with my cello after a gig in NY at 1am. A small miracle I found it in the green room the next morning. You would never think it’s possible or that you could ever be so irresponsible with something so expensive until you simply forget to look behind you before the doors closed. Ease up.

    • Nick2 says:

      “It’s happened to the best of us.” Oh really? I actually doubt that very much indeed. How many professional musicians are there around the world? How many have left instruments worth at least £250,000 on trains, planes or whatever? A few, certainly. But I would put a lot of that £250,000 (if I had it) on the table that the number is minuscule. Forgetting an instrument that happens to be one’s livelihood whatever its value does not happen to the “best of us”!

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. I once forgot my PA after a meeting when I rushed-off in a cab, which I bitterly regret, because that was the moment when she began to be obstinate and a fan of Boulez.