The Stolen Stradivarius, in Good Hands

Here is a personal, dramatic tale within classical music history. Bronislaw Huberman toured regularly during the 1930s to perform and raise funds for his dream of founding the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. In February 1936, he had an engagement at Carnegie Hall, where he had performed many times before. On this evening, he left his Stradivarius in his dressing room while performing on another violin. When he returned, it was gone. Huberman felt close to a breakdown after the loss, especially given the enormous pressure he was under to both raise money for the Palestine Symphony Orchestra and to secure immigration visas for the musicians. The same Stradivarius violin had once been stolen in Vienna, but was recovered quickly. This theft of his violin at Carnegie Hall went unsolved for 50 years before it was finally recovered and sold at auction.

Today, the violin is in the good hands of the esteemed violinist Joshua Bell. In Orchestra of Exiles, Bell shows his empathy for how distraught Huberman must have felt after the loss of his instrument. “The connection between violinist and violin—it becomes almost like your soul mate. Some people compare it to getting married. Finding the right instrument is probably harder than finding the right wife,” he says. Bell goes on to recount how he had just acquired Huberman’s violin before he went to Israel to play with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He was pleased to have the connection to Huberman in his very hands, saying, “It adds to the magic of getting to play on it every night.” The story of what is now Joshua Bell’s Stradivarius is featured on Bell’s website.

Orchestra of Exiles premieres Sunday, April 14 at 10 p.m. ET on PBS.