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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

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Frank Almond speaks at a Milwaukee Press Club Newsmaker luncheon Tuesday afternoon.
Frank Almond speaks at a Milwaukee Press Club Newsmaker luncheon Tuesday afternoon.

Violinsanity: Almond talks about his newly recovered Stradivarius

After about two weeks of likely astronomical stress and separation anxiety, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster and recent high-profile heist victim Frank Almond seemed soft-spoken, relaxed and easy at the Milwaukee Press Club’s Newsmaker Luncheon Tuesday afternoon at the Newsroom Pub.

The acclaimed violinist was the featured guest at the luncheon, fielding questions about the recent highly publicized armed robbery that left him without his on-loan million dollar 1715 Lipinski Stradivarius violin, and several screenwriters with a new script idea to pitch (Potential title: "It’s a Strad, Strad, Strad, Strad World").

Thankfully, the violin – appraised around $5 million – was recovered by police and returned to Almond unharmed. So unharmed that the violin was back in action Monday night at a concert event at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center in Brookfield. An event program coincidentally dedicated and focused on the history of Almond’s 300-year-old instrument. Seriously, Hollywood, it’s written for you.

After a brief introduction from BizTimes executive editor and OnMilwaukee.com contributor Steve Jagler, Almond took the MPC-branded podium and made some brief comments. He thanked the police for their help in finding the culprits and, of course, the violin. He also thanked the press – even those parked at his house – for understanding that he couldn’t be super open about the case.

Then began the meat of the luncheon: a panel interview with Almond, led by WISN-12 reporter Terry Sater, Journal Sentinel assistant entertainment/features editor Jim Higgins and Bonnie North from WUWM. The interview was followed up by questions from the crowd of 20 to 30 intrigued press club members.

Almond talked about the two 19th century violin bows also snagged in the robbery (worth a paltry combined $50,000) and the worries about the tuning and beautifully crafted sound of the violin going astray after the incident, especially in the freezing weather.

He once again addressed the popular question of why he wouldn’t have more security, such as a bodyguard or a handcuff, to protect against a robbery, noting that it would likely draw more attention to himself and his multimillion-dollar work tool. If the thieves really wanted to steal the violin (and the investigation currently suggest that this was no mindless snatch-and-grab), a handcuff could possibly just make things more dangerous. Better just the violin is snatched and not the musician as well. Or perhaps lose a hand along with the instrument.

Almond also chatted about the processes that bookended the case: proving himself innocent – not a particularly nerve-wracking experience; in fact, Almond described it as "much more boring" than you’d expect – and proving that the Strad, when found, was the right violin. After a quick run through some scales that casually transformed into some Bach, Almond knew it was the right one. There is something magic about the bond between a musician and his instrument.

What about the state of the economically fragile MSO? Did the added media frenzy help out at all? Almond had no answers to that; he was "preoccupied with other things," jokingly stating the obvious. He did confidently say that he and the rest of the orchestra would be playing here for a while – or at least through the year.

And so will the Lipinski Strad, according to Almond, seemingly undaunted by the recent attack. In fact, the concertmaster said that the treasured violin is a work of art on its own, but unlike a painting or sculpture in a museum, it finds its true artistic meaning while in use. As a museum piece, it’s beautiful. In action – and in the hands of an expert – it can be transcendent.

The real lesson of the Almond luncheon, however? God bless North Face. According to Almond, while one stun gun hook got him in the wrist, the other got mostly lodged in his jacket. It still "didn’t feel great," rendering him incapacitated for what he approximates to about four to five seconds, but the current was dulled.

A fascinating crime story AND product placement possibilities? Seriously, if this isn’t at least an episode of "The Mentalist" or something, Hollywood has failed. 

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