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Prized Viola Returned to Orchestra

June 23, 1998

CHICAGO (AP) _ A violin believed to be worth as much as $1 million has been returned to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, nearly two years after it was lost by an orchestra member.

Charles Pikler, the orchestra’s principal violist, left the prized instrument on a downtown sidewalk on Sept. 18, 1996.

CSO officials thought they had lost the instrument forever, but it turned up last week in the hands of 71-year-old Robert Heiss of Chicago, who tried to sell it to violin expert Fritz Reuter.

Reuter called Chicago police, who picked up the viola and later arrested Heiss, charging him with one count of felony theft in connection with the viola’s disappearance. Heiss says he bought the instrument at a flea market for $20,000.

Police called Pikler, who showed up at the police station and gave an impromptu concert to make sure the viola sounded right.

The instrument was crafted in 1723 and its inscription identifies the maker as Dominicus Montagnana, one of the greatest Venetian violin makers of his time. However, its authenticity is disputed.

The viola’s s value is estimated at $30,000 to $1 million, depending on its authenticity. But an official for the orchestra said it’s commercial value was unimportant.

``It’s a beautiful viola,″ said Tom Hallett, the CSO’s chief financial officer. ``The real value is in the way it plays.″

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