Antiques: Making Beautiful Music Together
Geoffrey fushi has handled almost as many Stradivarius violins as Antonio Stradivari himself did. He estimates that Bein & Fushi, the 29-year-old Chicago company that he cofounded with business partner Robert Bein, has sold about 100 Stradivarius violins and has either sold, repaired, restored, appraised, or catalogued almost one-third of the 640 Stradivarii that have survived. Unlike many other antiques, which over the years have shed any functional purpose, violins continue to be played regardless of their age, and one of Fushi’s talents—and one of the shop’s primary services—is matching the right musician with the right instrument. “I’ve always been extremely successful at hearing what violinists are looking for,” he says. The company’s main reception area testifies to his success: Its walls are covered with dozens of black-and-white 8 by 10s—all framed, most signed, and many askew—depicting musicians, some of whom are more accomplished than others, and all of whom have been Bein & Fushi clients at one time or another.
Not every musician readily accepts Bein & Fushi’s choice of instruments. Latvian-born musician Gidon Kremer initially rejected the Stradivarius that Fushi selected for him because its scroll, the curving part at the top of the neck, was not original, decreasing its value significantly. Fushi recalls insisting, “I want you to see it. It’s really special. I think it can do what you need.” But Kremer was unmoved. Ultimately, Fushi brought the instrument to Boston, where the musician was then performing, and convinced him to examine the Strad. Kremer reluctantly lifted the violin and raised the bow. When the musician began to play, Fushi knew he had made his sale.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma proved to be an even tougher customer. In 1982, Fushi offered him a 1733 Montagnana cello and brought it to Boston so that Ma, who was giving a concert there at the time, could try it out. “I thought he would like it,” remembers Fushi, “but he said it was fine, but not quite exactly there.” Back it went to Chicago for technical refinements at John Bowen’s shop, which is located down the hall from Bein & Fushi’s offices in the Fine Arts Building, a landmark 1885 structure overlooking Grant Park and Lake Michigan. Fushi then returned to Boston with the cello, which traveled in its own seat on the airliner. Ma tried it again, but its sound still was not precisely what he wanted. Thus Fushi took it back to Chicago, where Bowen tinkered with it once again. Convinced it was now perfect, Fushi set out a third time with the instrument in tow. Ma finally approved, and the cello has since become a favorite of his. (In 1999, Ma inadvertently left it in a Manhattan taxicab but later retrieved the instrument.)
About five years after the sale, Fushi heard Ma play the Montagnana cello in concert and became convinced that his effort had been worthwhile. “The concert was so incredible, so inspiring,” he says, swooning slightly at the memory. “If I had had to sell it for nothing, I would have done it.”
This 1703 Stradivarius violin is among the many rare instruments that Bein & Fushi has handled.
Bein & Fushi,