Turtle Island Musician Regains Lost Violin

Violinist Evan Price, a member of the Turtle Island String Quartet, lost his instrument in April at the airport in Billings, Mont. The violin was found Wednesday and is now with police. Price tells Melissa Block he's torn over sticking with his replacement violin or returning to the old one.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now, a story about a lost violin and, eight months later, an improbable recovery. The rare violin belongs to Evan Price of the Grammy-winning classical crossover group, the Turtle Island String Quarter. He got news yesterday that the violin he left on the curb at an airport in Montana back in April has been found.

And, Evan, I hate to have you relive the painful details. But how exactly did you lose your violin?

Mr. EVAN PRICE (Turtle Island String Quartet): I was very sleepy, in my defense, and forgot to check the curb when we picked up all the rest of our luggage and put it into the car and drove away.

BLOCK: And you realized pretty quickly that it was gone?

Mr. PRICE: Well, three hours was not quickly enough. By the time I realized it was gone I called the airport and it was definitely gone.

BLOCK: And tell us a bit about this violin. It was a pretty, pretty pricey piece of equipment you have.

Mr. PRICE: Yeah. To the layperson, $50,000 may seem like a lot of money. Certainly, it did to me. For a professional violin, it's actually considered by some to be reasonable. But it was a violin made in 1879 by maker named Eugenal Praga. He made in Genoa, Italy. So I was pretty heartbroken.

BLOCK: Okay. Well, months go by, you do not have the violin. What happens?

Mr. PRICE: Well, I got a series of calls and e-mails yesterday morning from the police in Billings, which said give us a call. We think we have your violin. So of course, I called and yes, it sounds like they do. I've seen a picture of it in police custody online and it definitely looks like mine. What I'm told is that a person, whoever was in possession of it, tried to sell the thing and he'd called a violin maker/dealer in Canada, trying to sell it and trying to get whatever he could. It turned out he called an old friend who happens to be his violinmaker that I had bought a violin from 20 years ago, a different instrument, but recognized the description immediately and didn't tip this guy off. He, instead, called the police and they worked out a nifty sting operation and got it back.

BLOCK: Now, here's another wrinkle. In the intervening months, you have bought another violin.

Mr. PRICE: That's right.

BLOCK: And now, the question is what do you do with the old one?

Mr. PRICE: That's the million dollar question. I should say the $30,000 question because that's the price difference between the lost and the one recently purchased. Being a professional, I had to move on. I needed something to play. I had concert obligations and recording obligations to meet, and so I was lucky to find a contemporary instrument, which did the job, and I didn't - it wasn't love at first sight.

But the more I got to play it, the more I played it with the group, the more we all realized that it really worked pretty, sort of the way, the way musicians are with their instruments. You develop a relationship with these things and over the time, it sometimes turns into love and sometimes, changes the player.

BLOCK: There is something epic about this. I think, it's like a real romance story.

Mr. PRICE: Yeah. Yeah.

BLOCK: You have brought in to the studio, there in San Francisco, the new violin. Can you play a little bit for us?

(Soundbite of violin music)

BLOCK: Okay. So that's the new version. We also have a recording of you playing the old, poor violin that was left behind.

(Soundbite of violin music)

Mr. PRICE: There's something about an older instrument, particularly once you get more than let's say a hundred years, which is - can only be described as character that they - it's pretty widely agreed that the strings instruments age does improve them like fine wines. And there's this certain body and creaminess, and richness about an older instrument, which is very difficult to duplicate in the modern one.

BLOCK: You know, I should probably stay neutral here, but I think you've got to do right by that old violin.

Mr. PRICE: Well, maybe I'll have you talk to my life.

BLOCK: I think somebody's trying to tell you something. That you left it at the curb side, it's been found. It wants you back.

Mr. PRICE: Could be. Could be. I'll withhold judgment.

BLOCK: Evan Price, I'm glad you at least found it. And thanks for talking with us.

Mr. PRICE: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Violinist Evan Price of the Turtle Island String Quartet. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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