On a stormy night, Roman Totenberg’s stolen Stradivarius is reborn in public ~ The Washington Post


Violinist Mira Wang displays the recovered Stradivarius at her home in New York. (Jesse Dittmar/For The Washington Post)

NEW YORK — No two Strads are alike, they say, but the violin that Mira Wang reintroduced to the world Monday night is truly special. It was gone for decades, stolen after a concert in 1980, and its owner, Roman Totenberg, died in 2012 thinking it would never be seen again.

At a few minutes after 8 p.m., Wang proved her beloved teacher wrong.

“May he hear the violin tonight,” she told an audience of 200 people at a private club in Manhattan, and then launched into the Ysaÿe Violin Sonata No. 2.

Wang, 49, a masterful soloist who emigrated from China in the 1980s to study with Totenberg, performed a movement that seemed scripted for the instrument, the moment and the player, with shifting tempos, dashing runs and delicate, crying notes. It’s not a piece you can hide behind — and she didn’t.

When Wang was done, she declared, “I’m holding the Totenberg Ames Stradivarius in my hands.”

Such a declaration would have seemed unthinkable as recently as two years ago. Philip Johnson, a talented but erratic younger player, stole the violin after a performance by Totenberg in Cambridge, Mass. He seemed to have gotten away with the crime. For the remainder of Totenberg’s life, memories of the Stradivarius — sparked by old recordings or concert posters — would bring sadness to the normally ebullient master.

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