Double bassist and ClassicalMusicNews.tv blogger John Grillo wrote a post recently about the New Jersey Symphony and their dubious decision to sell their recently acquired ‘Golden Age’ instrument collection of 30 renowned stringed instruments to investment bankers (and amateur violinists) Seth and Brook Taube. Although they no longer own the instruments themselves, the New Jersey Symphony retains the right to perform on 28 of these instruments for the next five years. John also notes:
They are also a partner in the future appreciation of the collection. This leaves the organization with a balanced budget for the first time in a decade. Being the deficit-driven machines that modern day orchestras are, the loan was another liability that was a drain on the finances. Just like when a mistake is made in a concert, one needs to move on quickly and look ahead. What’s done is done. The famous makers of this collection include violins, violas and cellos from Stradivarius, Guarneri and Amati.
Playbill Arts has more information on the ‘Golden Age’ collection. This collection of irreplaceable instruments has been on quite a valuation roller coaster lately:
The "Golden Age Collection," the largest concentration of rare antique strings in any orchestra in North America (and likely the world), was purchased by the NJSO in 2003 amid a blitz of publicity. Hopes ran high that the sound of these prize instruments — along with the arrival of the esteemed conductor Neeme Järvi as music director in 2005 — would boost both the artistic level and the public profile of an ensemble that is usually overshadowed by its rich and famous counterparts in New York and Philadelphia. (Increased donations and ticket sales were expected to follow.)
Unfortunately, within a year, the Golden Age Collection was attracting the wrong kind of attention. The previous owner, pet care mogul Herbert Axelrod, claimed that the instruments were worth about $50 million in total but proposed, as a charitable gesture, to sell the entire collection to the NJSO for $25 million, a figure he later knocked down to $17 million. The orchestra’s administration, excited by the offer and fearful that the opportunity would slip away, purchased the instruments as soon as it could raise and borrow the money.
Read the complete Playbill Arts article here.
It’s sad to see such a collection fall into private hands–owning these instruments is a real coup for an orchestra and certainly helps to distinguish them (and thereby help with ticket sales, contributions, grants, and the overall artistic profile of the organization), but if it’s a choice between paying musician salaries and retaining control of this collection, the decision is understandable. Although orchestra administrators cite the ‘taint’ of the financial devaluation of the collection as one of the primary factors in the sale, one can’t help but wonder what future dividends retaining these instruments might have offered for the organization.