Jeffrey Epstein, a rare cello and a lingering mystery

At first, Mr. DeRosa did not take Mr. Epstein’s command seriously. But Mr. Epstein kept calling, as did members of his team, to ask if he had made any progress. Mr. DeRosa set to work looking for a cello.

Like many professional musicians, Mr. DeRosa has been connected to the small world of rare string instruments, some of which cost up to $20 million. His own cello, made by Italian master Domenico Montagnana in 1739, is considered one of the best in the world and is probably worth millions of dollars. Mr. DeRosa assured Mr. Epstein that he would not have to spend so much.

Shortly after, Mr. DeRosa was visiting his mother in Los Angeles when he learned that a cello was being sold there by a musician who was recording soundtracks for Hollywood studios. (Before that, the cello had been played by a member of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.)

Although not a Stradivarius or a Montagnana, this cello had a distinguished pedigree and was made by Ettore Soffritti, who worked at the String Instrument Center in Ferrara, Italy, from the late 1800s until his death in 1928. Benning Violins, the Los Angeles dealer, described the cello’s sound as “rich and powerful” and said the instrument was “suitable for the best cellists”.

Mr. DeRosa tried the cello. He has been hit. He said he considered it “one of the greatest modern cellos in existence”. (By “modern,” he meant anything produced after the Italian Renaissance.) With an asking price of $185,000, he also considered it a bargain.

Mr. Epstein seemed delighted when Mr. DeRosa told him he had found something. He said the intended recipient of the cello – a young Israeli named Yoed Nir – had to test the instrument first. Mr. DeRosa knew almost all the promising cellists, but he had never heard of Mr. Nir.

Mr. DeRosa had the cello on a trial basis, and Mr. Nir tested the instrument during a visit to Mr. DeRosa’s mother’s house in Los Angeles. Mr. Nir, who was about 30 years old and had shoulder-length black hair, which he shook theatrically while playing, played some of Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites. He had clearly had a musical background (he was a graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance), but Mr. DeRosa considered his playing unexceptional by its exacting standards. He could think of many young cellists more deserving of such an instrument. “I thought it was incredibly strange that Jeffrey chose this guy,” Mr. DeRosa recalled.

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