Internal Review Finds New Jersey Symphony Hid Value of Rare Violins

Classic Arts News   Internal Review Finds New Jersey Symphony Hid Value of Rare Violins
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra deceived its own board and the public about the worth of the collection of rare string instruments it bought from Herbert Axelrod for $17 million last year, according to a report from an internal panel set up to review the purchase.

The panel of NJSO trustees, in a report released on the orchestra's web site today, criticized sharply the process leading up to the purchase in February 2003. The panel found, among other things, that the orchestra's Instrument Committee, which included then-NJSO president Lawrence Tamburri, knew that some of the 30 rare violins, violas, and cellos might not be authentic, and that they were worth much less than the $50 million at which Axelrod pegged their value.

Nevertheless, the panel says, the orchestra trumpeted the $50 million figure, using it in a press release and season brochures, leading the public and some less active members of the board of trustees to accept it as accurate. At the same time, the Instrument Committee told some members of the board that the value of the instruments was about half of Axelrod's estimate, when in fact the committee believed it might be as low as $15.3 million.

In addition, according to the report, some members of the committee had heard rumors that Axelrod was already under investigation for overvaluing other gifts of rare instruments, but those rumors were not investigated or shared with the full committee or the board of trustees. Axelrod has since pleaded guilty to unrelated tax fraud charges in a deal that will allow him to avoid prosecution over the NJSO sale. But he may still face charges over the donation of four other instruments to the Smithsonian Institution.

Despite all of these conclusions, the report adds, the instruments themselves‹probably the finest owned by an orchestra in the world‹are "a unique asset, of which the musicians and orchestra should be justly proud."

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