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Sounds of silence on stolen violins

There has been no word from anyone about two prized instruments taken in December.

February 10, 2007|J. Michael Kennedy | Times Staff Writer

It's been more than a month since the burglar broke into Mark Kashper's home and stole his violins, the ones worth a small fortune.

Each day, Kashper hopes the phone will ring and it will be police with the good news that the instruments been recovered. But nothing yet. No word from the pawn shops. No tips from informants. Nothing.

And the prevailing theory is that the crook who took them doesn't know that the violins are worth about $300,000.

Kashper, a soft-spoken Russian emigre, is a violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. On Dec. 23, while he and his wife, Irina, were away, someone broke into their West Hollywood home and stole the two violins, some jewelry and an old wallet. The burglar ransacked the couple's bedroom but didn't touch anything else in the house, including computer equipment.

The violins were by far the most valuable of the burglar's haul. One, owned by the symphony, is an 18th century Tononi valued at about $225,000. The other, Kashper's own, is worth about $65,000.

But as valuable as the instruments are, the theft made nary a ripple in the public consciousness. There was virtually no publicity. Neither, after all, was a Stradivarius.

But for Kashper, who has been playing the Tononi in the orchestra since 1986, the theft was a huge loss.

"It's a wonderful instrument," Kashper said recently. "I was very attached to it. It has a very nice, pleasant Italian sound -- not a big sound, not one for a soloist, but pleasant for chamber music and the orchestra."

Kashper joined the philharmonic in 1978, three months after arriving in the United States from the Soviet Union. After progressing steadily through the orchestra's ranks, he was promoted to associate principal second violin in 1986 -- sixth in the pecking order and the position he holds today.

He has appeared as a soloist with the orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl and at the Ojai Festival. When he was awarded his present title in the orchestra, he was given the Tononi to use. It is one of 19 instruments, including four Stradivariuses, on loan to orchestra musicians.

Besides the two violins, a bow worth $30,000 also was stolen in the burglary. And despite the fact that only one room was hit, Los Angeles Police Det. Don Hrycyk, a member of the department's art theft detail, said he is looking for a clueless but gutsy burglar "who was doing a little Christmas shopping."

"I'm looking for someone bold enough to break into a house where he ignored a burglary alarm sign to rob the place," he said.

He said the evidence did not point to someone who knew the violins were there, but rather to someone who was willing to bet he could burglarize one room and get away before the silent alarm brought police.

"I don't think the burglary was particularly clever or a targeted theft," Hrycyk said. "It was a matter of scooping up the jewelry and the violins."

So far, only the wallet has been found -- in a trash can about three miles south of Kashper's home.

The Tononi is "probably floating somewhere," Hrycyk said. "And it's now a question of whether someone can tell what it is."

He said the worst thing that could happen was for the burglar to realize what he was holding and decide to destroy it.

The official description of the Tononi says it is 14 inches long and made of maple and spruce. It is golden brown and shows considerable wear on the back. A velvet cover in the case is inscribed with the words "Lady Margaret -- 1694." Kashper said he did not know the significance of the inscription.

The latest step, one taken last week, was the posting of a $10,000 reward for the violin's return.

Adam Crane, a spokesman for the philharmonic, said this kind of theft happens so seldom that there is no pattern and "no predictable outcome."

The last celebrated instrument theft in Los Angeles occurred in April 2004 when a Stradivarius cello was stolen from the front steps of the home of a philharmonic musician who had forgotten to bring it inside.

It was recovered when a woman spotted it near a trash bin in Silver Lake and returned it to the orchestra.

In that case, a $50,000 reward was offered for the $3.5-million instrument.

michael.kennedy@latimes.com

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