The L.A. Phil released a statement that a rare Stradivarius cello played by their Principal Cellist Peter Stumpf was stolen from a home in Loz Feliz. They’re asking the public for tips and information. From what I understand, this cello is one of only 60 Strad cellos in the entire world. Even people who don’t know/like/care about classical music have at least heard of the famed Stradivarius stringed instruments & know how exceptional & uncommon they are.

Peter Stumpf with the cello. Click for the hi-res image from laphil.org (1.9 mb) The cello case.  Click for the hi-res image from laphil.org (130 kb) Peter Stumpf playing the cello.  Click for the hi-res image from laphil.org (384 kb)

If I was a professional cellist who had my cello (especially a Strad) stolen, I think I would probably just cry until it was returned.

But what’s the point of stealing something so unusual? To me, it’s akin to stealing a piece of artwork that is “priceless” because it’s unique. Though valued at $3.5 million, this cello is really irreplaceable. It’s not like you can go and sell such a cello without someone realizing that it was the stolen cello. Besides which, part of the value of the cello (aside from the obvious quality & sound of the instrument), is the fact that it is a Stradivarius and that Strads are rare. And if you don’t say it’s a Strad, the value would go down considerably.

I don’t get it.

The L.A. Phil statement is below…

Esa-Pekka Salonen with Peter Stumpf and cello to the left.  Click for the hi-res image from laphil.org (2.1 mb)(LOS ANGELES, CA – April 27, 2004, 11:00 AM) — The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association has notified the Los Angeles Police Department that the Stradivarius cello played by Philharmonic Principal Cellist Peter Stumpf was taken from a home in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. The instrument was last seen on April 24, 2004.

Nicknamed the “General Kyd” for the man who brought it to England at the end of the 18th century, the instrument is valued at $3.5 million. The cello was made in Cremona, Italy, in 1684, and is the property of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. The British premiere of Dvor·k’s famed cello concerto was performed on this instrument in 1896 by cellist Leo Stern. Purchased by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association in the early 1970s, the cello has been played by a member of the Philharmonic since then. Stumpf began playing the instrument in October 2002 when he joined the orchestra. The instrument was in a silver coated plastic cello case measuring 54 inches by 20 inches and manufactured by Bam.

The Los Angeles Police Department and other authorities are investigating the disappearance. Anyone with information about the missing cello should call Detective Donald Hrycyk of the LA Police Department at (213) 485-2524. Anonymous tips or information can be directed to the established hotline at (213) 972-3500. The cello can be returned at the Artists’ Entrance of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. No questions will be asked.

Description: The missing cello is dated Cremona 1684. The varnish has a rich golden-brown color; the instrument is in repaired condition. The back is formed by two pieces of maple cut half-slab and is marked by an irregular figure which is interspersed by knot formations in the middle bouts. The sides of maple match that of the back. The table is cut from two pieces of spruce with even, medium-broad curl. The instrument was in a silver coated plastic cello case manufactured by Bam.

Length of body: 30 1/2 inches
Middle: 10 1/16 inches
Upper bouts: 14 1/8 inches
Lower bouts: 18 19/32 inches

LAPD: Donald Hrycyk, (213) 485-2524
HOTLINE: (213) 972-3500
MEDIA: Elizabeth Hinckley, (213) 972-3034; Cell: (323) 864-0429


  1. Collectors, in general, are a different breed of people. It is not neccessary for them to show off their collection, but sometimes its for their own keepsake and acknowledgement. Look at sean bonner. Sure that guy has a glass shelf of rad toys but you don’t think he’s got some secret stuff he’s not showing off. Believe me, he has them hidden.

    And from the movies, I learned that most burglers do not keep their stolen goods. They usually have a fence who buys the stuff from them. And the fence has a buyer – who probably doesn’t care that the stuff is stolen.

  2. The theft is tragic but I’m sorry, what was Stumpf and the L.A. Phil thinking?

    Though I can respect the argument that’s been made that such a treasure is meant to be played and not put on a pedestal in some museum, my counter to that stance is that even though a 300-year-old, Stradivarius cello deserves to be heard and may sound unique and definitive to the practiced ear, from where me and my decidedly unpracticed ears are sitting and listening in Disney Concert Hall, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between it and one made last year in a factory in China.

    And then to allow Stumpf to take it home? Hell no! Even if my employer dared to consign to me anything of such value and an irreplaceable nature, I’d be too nervous to load it in the back of my vehicle and just take it off the premises much less leave it unsecured in my Los Feliz house ó not primarily because I would fear it being stolen, but generally because I wouldn’t want to subject it to ANY risk whatsoever.

  3. There was a story on NPR a while back about what can happen to these lost/stolen one-of-a-kind musical instruments. (probably several years ago now; I couldn’t find it in the archive and unfortunately my recollection of it is fairly spotty)

    In the story in question, a man on his deathbed revealed to his daughter that he was in possession of a stolen Strad. He had been playing it for years (was he a street performer?) but told no one; he never even had it professionally cleaned or tuned for fear that it would be discovered for what it was. I can no longer recall how he obtained it (perhaps the mystery was part of the story; perhaps I’ve just forgotten) but I believe he held on to it both because it was a joy to play and for fear of reprisal.

  4. If anyone can locate the source of that NPR story I’d appreciate it; I too recall the story with a conflicted sense of fascination and melencholy. It may have been on This American Life, by Ira Glass; but alsas, I may be confusing the issue.

  5. Doesn’t “stumpf” mean “dull” in German? I think the L.A. Phil should make him play a $300 student cello until the General is recovered.

  6. You know this kind of thing is almost always an inside job which means that somebody knew where to find the cello and also has a collector/buyer all lined up. But I also heard a rumour that the thief made off with it on a bicycle, are my sources decieving me?

  7. I am a violin maker for over 10 years now and I still can not understand, what is soooo special in old Cremonese violins.
    There were performed lots of correct experiments, and no real difference between sound of old Italian and good contemporary instruments was noticed.
    So what or who creates prices?

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