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Finding and financing an instrument

by Elina Roms

A high-value instrument should be the principal tool of any top musician, but the real gems are available only to a select few. Tomas Djupsjöbacka set up an investment company with nine other shareholders, thus securing himself a rare cello for the duration of his active performing career.

In autumn 2008, cellist Tomas Djupsjöbacka found himself facing a question familiar to top musicians: how to find a really good instrument and be able to hold on to it for a long time? Djupsjöbacka is one of -Finland’s leading cellists; his merits include being a founding member of the Meta4 quartet and the only Finnish member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

Seppo Kimanen, an older colleague with an extensive international career, told Djupsjöbacka about alternative models for instrument ownership that were in use for instance in the USA, and the idea took root. Djup-sjöbacka began to search for an instrument while negotiating with potential investors. Many of them were new to the notion that high-value instruments could be an investment opportunity for private individuals, but they were intrigued.

Today, Djupsjöbacka plays a cello built by Lorenzo Storioni in Cremona in 1780. It is jointly owned by ten private individuals, one of them Djupsjöbacka himself. The insurance premiums on the instrument are divided among all the shareholders.

The concept was developed in collaboration, with each of the investors pitching in with their particular professional expertise. The investors worked on the ownership model, while Djupsjöbacka used his contacts, his experience and a lot of man-hours to find a suitable instrument. The corporate form finally chosen was a limited partnership. Each investor can sell out their share at any time, but the instrument itself will not be sold while Djupsjöbacka has an active performing career. That was the central clause in the constitutive agreement.

Instrument and musician need time together

“It is an incredibly big thing to be able to develop a long-term relationship with a high-value instrument. It can easily take two years to become acquainted with an instrument, and it would be such a shame to have to give it up just when you have become accustomed to it,” says Djupsjöbacka.

He does, however, understand the fairness argument on the basis of which Finnish foundations normally only lend their high-value instruments to a particular musician for five years.

“I can see the point of wanting to give everyone an equal opportunity to get their hands on the instruments owned by a foundation, a bank, the government or other such body. I count myself incredibly lucky to know that I can now focus on really getting to know this instrument, instead of having to look around for replacements,” says Djupsjöbacka.

Good stock of high-value instruments

The largest collection of high-value instruments in Finland is held by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, with an overall insurance value of nearly €9 million (2013). Djupsjöbacka notes that Finland has a very good stock of high-value instruments relative to the population and the number of musicians.

“We are indebted to previous generations for acquiring these instruments and understanding their importance,” he points out.

He considers that the most valuable point in the user agreements concerning instruments owned by foundations is that there is scope for flexibility depending on the situation of each individual musician.

Where to acquire a high-value instrument?

There are no rare-instrument shops where you can just walk in and point, or click online; just finding an instrument can be a painstaking process. “The dealers in Europe who deal in rare instruments are well networked, and musicians know all about them. But the number of instruments is limited, and turnover is low,” says Djup-sjöbacka. “I flew back and forth looking at things that were on offer, but networking is so very important even when buying an instrument.”

He advises turning to older and more experienced musicians and instrument builders for advice on how to get started. “Then there are cases where an elderly musician wishes to sell his instrument to someone younger. Such transactions are rarely publicised at all.”

Today, many professional musicians play a new instrument in the medium-price range. Should a professional musician aspire to a high-value instrument, then? Tomas Djupsjöbacka notes that in order to really be able to compare a new instrument and one 250 years old, you would have to be able to hear how the new instrument will sound 250 years from now. “That is impossible, of course, and ultimately it comes down to a taste. I myself like the deep, rich tone of an old, high-value instrument,” he says.

“On the other hand, a huge price tag does not guarantee an excellent sound. Every instrument is an individual. You have to be able to handle it and evaluate it from your personal perspective and also with a view to its purpose. There are individual differences between high-value instruments.”

A dual cultural deed

Overall, Tomas Djupsjöbacka is very pleased with the company model. Developed in collaboration, the concept is a win-win situation in which a financial investment augments not only the financial but also the spiritual capital of the investors:

“We are in touch all the time. It is part of the deal that I invite the investors to concerts and perform at their private functions. Private individuals thus form a direct relationship with the performer and the instrument, which may open up quite new perspectives for them. Judging from the reactions, it would seem that the human side is quite as valuable as the money aspect. It’s not all just about numbers.”

Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Featured photo: Tomas Djupsjöbacka with the Lorenzo Storioni cello. Photo by Nina Siven / Sellosali