Stradivarius stolen decades ago at Longy School to be played for the first time since heist

Some stories have a happy ending. It just takes a while.

Consider the case of Roman Totenberg’s missing Stradivarius. Monday, more than three decades after the priceless instrument was stolen from its owner following a concert in Cambridge, the violin will be played in front of an audience in New York.


Totenberg won’t be there — he died in 2012 — but his three daughters will be. Even better, Totenberg’s protege, violinist Mira Wang, is the person who’ll be playing the instrument for the first time since it went MIA all those years ago.

“Our father taught us not to dwell in the past and to move on with our lives,” Jill Totenberg told us Wednesday. “So that’s what we did. But there’s enormous joy and excitement that the violin is back and going to be played.”

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The 283-year-old Stradivarius violin was stolen in 1980 from Roman Totenberg’s office at the Longy School of Music, where he was then the director. Suspicion immediately centered on a 20-something violinist named Philip Johnson, who’d been at the concert the night the violin went missing.

But Johnson was never charged and the instrument was never located. Then, in 2015, after Johnson’s death, his ex-wife took the violin to be appraised and the appraiser immediately recognized the instrument and contacted authorities.

Jill Totenberg admits that she and her sisters Amy and Nina, the legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio, had long ago given up ever finding the violin, which will make it ever so sweet to hear Wang bow its strings Monday. The sisters won’t say where the performance is — it’s at a private club in Manhattan — but the program includes a Mendelssohn string quintet and a Dvorak piano quintet.

Roman Totenberg with Mira Wang (center) and Na Sun in 2010.

Michael J. Lutch/file

Roman Totenberg with Mira Wang (center) and Na Sun in 2010.


Wang was extremely close with Totenberg, having moved from China to study with him at Boston University, where he was a professor. “My parents gave me life, and he taught me how to live it,’’ she told the Globe after Totenberg’s death. “As a teacher, he was the most generous man I have ever met.’’

Jill Totenberg said Monday will be a special night.

“Mira will talk about the instrument and Nina will talk about our father’s relationship with Mira,” she said. “It’s going to be wonderful.”

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