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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 May, 2004, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Rare cello escapes CD rack fate
Peter Stumpf is hugged by Los Angeles Philharmonic Association president Deborah Burda at a press conference announcing the return of the Stradivarius
Peter Stumpf said he was "incredibly relieved" at the Strad's return
A rare 320-year-old stolen Stradivarius cello had a narrow escape - from being converted into a CD holder.

The $3.5m instrument, made in 1684 and owned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, was found by nurse Melanie Stevens lying by a rubbish bin.

Initially unaware of its value, she had asked her cabinet-maker boyfriend to fix it or turn it into a CD rack.

Orchestra bosses breathed a sigh of relief at the return of the cello, which suffered only slight damage.

The cello was stolen from the porch of the Philharmonic's principal cellist, Peter Stumpf, by a thief on a bicycle, police said.

Three weeks later, Ms Stevens found it - about a mile from Mr Stumpf's home - as she was on her way to visit a patient.

The cello was still inside its silver-coated plastic case.

She said she took it home and asked her boyfriend, Igal Asseraf, to either repair it or turn it into a unique holder for her CD collection.

'Enormous cheer'

"I had the idea to possibly put a hinge on the front... He would install little shelves inside," said the 30-year-old.

"It would be a very elaborate CD case. I know it sounds crazy."

One of only 60 made by Italian Antonio Stradivari
Nicknamed General Kyd for the man who brought it to England in 18th century
Played by cellist Leo Stern at British premier of Dvorak's cello concerto in 1896
Owned by LA Philharmonic for 30 years
It was only when she saw a news report that Ms Stevens realised what she had and turned it over to the police.

Philharmonic bosses said an "enormous cheer" went up around the orchestra when they were told of the Stradivarius's return.

Mr Stumpf said the return of the cello, nicknamed General Kyd, made him "probably the happiest man in Los Angeles today".

"I'm just incredibly relieved the cello has been found," said the musician who has played the cello since October 2002.

"It's been an enormous weight on me for the last three weeks."

String repair technician Robert Cauer said the cracks were "routine", and the instrument would be restored to full health by October.

Los Angeles assistant police chief Jim McDonnell warned that the "case is by no means solved".

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