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Musician's replacement contrabassoon has 'great sound'

Martha Malkiewicz never got her stolen contrabassoon back.

But this weekend, in a pair of classics concerts, the musician with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra started over with the next best thing:

A new contrabassoon manufactured by the same German company that produced the original instrument 32 years ago.

For Malkiewicz, who had to play on instruments borrowed from musician friends for most of the past seven months, it's a hopeful ending to a crime that still defies explanation.

"It felt great," she said of her first time playing her contrabassoon. "I felt like it could be mine."

The contrabassoon is a woodwind that is twice the size of a regular bassoon, with 16 feet of tubing curved around on itself into a 5-foot-long instrument. It also produces a lower sound.

It weighs 25 pounds – 50 pounds in its case – and that's why the Town of Tonawanda native, who has played with the orchestra since 1984, stored hers at Kleinhans Music Hall when she wasn't performing.

That's also why she said she couldn't understand how anyone could, or why anyone would, want to take her contrabassoon. It was stolen back in late March during a one-week break for the orchestra.

Malkiewicz reported the theft to Buffalo police, called around to area pawn shops and spread the word through a national and international network of classical musicians, but to no avail.

She had purchased the instrument soon after getting her position with the orchestra, 32 years ago, from Mollenhauer-Lindsay in Germany for $7,000.

Malkiewicz turned to the company again in April to order a replacement. She expected it would take about six months to receive the instrument, between the time it takes to produce it and time spent on the waiting list. The other leading maker of contrabassoons, Heckel, has a 10-year waiting list, Malkiewicz said.

When Malkiewicz learned that the instrument would be shipped to her in late September, she couldn't contain her excitement. She said she told her delivery person he would be bringing her a very valuable package.

She said she paid $25,000 for it, although insurance covered most of the cost. That's comparable to the value of the original, though the cost and value of German-made contrabassoons depends on how much the Euro is worth compared to the American dollar on a given day, she said.

Malkiewicz said she is impressed by how much the mechanics of contrabassoon-making has advanced over the past three decades.

She said her new contrabassoon plays with a warm, even sound from top to bottom. It's very smooth, she said, like driving a Lexus or Ferrari.

Malkiewicz said she feels lucky to have a new instrument for what she imagines will be the last 10 years of her professional playing career.

She said she played the instrument at a few BPO youth concerts before this weekend, and the musicians around her like it a lot.

"They said, 'Wow, that's got a great sound,' " she said.

However, Malkiewicz put the contrabassoon through its full paces at two M&T Bank Classics concerts, on Friday morning and Saturday night.

She said she is happy with her new contrabassoon, but she still wants to know what happened to her old instrument – and, more importantly, why it was taken.

Malkiewicz said she doesn't necessarily want it back at this point.

"It is gone forever," she said with a laugh, even if it turns up.

"Because now it belongs to the insurance company. I can't return the one I have."

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