$3 million slip-up has happy ending

January 29, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Things happen," Gidon Kremer said yesterday, exuding much more calm than you might expect from someone who had left a $3 million violin on a train a few hours earlier.

"I can't justify myself," added the acclaimed, Latvian-born violinist, after being reunited with his fiddle at Meyerhoff Hall, where he will be the guest artist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra tonight through Saturday. "I can only explain."

Kremer arrived at Baltimore's Penn Station from New York in the same condition he spent the past 10 days of his U.S. tour: sleep-deprived. "I haven't slept one night all the way through," he said.

Before heading to Baltimore, Kremer learned that a violinist in the Kremerata Baltica, a chamber orchestra he founded in 1996, was sick and couldn't make an Asian tour scheduled to start in a few days. "I was preoccupied with that from the moment I sat down on the train to the moment I got up as we approached Baltimore," he said.

Used to traveling with only a garment bag and his violin, Kremer had a large suitcase as well yesterday, since he will be heading off for that Asian tour from here.

"I took the violin off the shelf, put some papers into the case, then grabbed the suitcase and garment bag," Kremer said. "But then I suddenly realized I had left a pencil on the table - a pencil is a most usable tool for musicians, and we're always losing them. I put the violin back down, grabbed the pencil, put it in my pocket and got off the train."

Waiting at the station was Jeremy Rothman, the BSO's associate artistic administrator. "I saw he had only two bags with him," Rothman said, "so I asked, `Is this everything?' And I could see his face suddenly change."

The train was already winding toward Washington by that point, with unexpected, unguarded cargo - a blue cloth case with a gold-colored tag bearing the name "Gidon"; inside, a Guarneri del Gesu violin, dated 1730 ("but most likely made in 1734," Kremer said), estimated value $3 million.

"I was not paralyzed completely," Kremer said about his reaction when he realized what had happened. "I still trust people." By the time the train pulled into Union Station, Amtrak officials were waiting. Seasoned lost-and-found baggage handler Mike Famiglietti secured the fiddle, which was subsequently picked up by Thomas Cirillo, a member of the Vilar Institute for Arts Management at the Kennedy Center, who offered to bring it up to Meyerhoff Hall. Meanwhile, Kremer rehearsed with the BSO on an instrument lent to him by BSO violinist George Orner.

"I am incredibly grateful to all the people who helped me," Kremer said, cradling the returned fiddle. "I have heard stories about other violinists losing their violins, but never believed such things could happen."

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