John W. Geoffrey Fushi, 1943–2012
Chicago violin dealer’s death marks the end of an era—Fushi’s lifelong passion for violins helped music’s brightest stars
Outside a sold-out concert hall in China, a fistfight was raging over tickets. Inside, Philippe Quint held the spectacular “Vieuxtemps” Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù violin of 1741. Beside the Grammy-nominated violinist stood tour organizer Geoffrey Fushi, the Chicago violin dealer who had put the del Gesù in Quint’s hands and whose passion for the instrument dwarfed any emotion on display outside.
“Geoff kept saying to me, ‘Don’t you feel that God is channeling his energy through that instrument?’” Quint recalls. “He said it over and over. Even if I didn’t feel that at first, I did eventually. That was part of the way he inspired musicians.
“Geoff’s love of violins was his true love,” Quint says. “Yes, it was his business, but he was successful because it was his love.”
That lifelong love affair ended on Friday, April 13, when the 68-year-old Fushi died of a heart attack at his Chicago home.
“I’m still in total disbelief,” says Alec Fushi, 47, his son.
The cofounder of Bein & Fushi, one of the world’s most respected—and at times controversial—restorers and dealers of violins, Geoffrey Fushi was a larger-than-life figure with a flair for storytelling. While he hobnobbed with many of the biggest names in music, from Itzhak Perlman to Isaac Stern, he also operated a company that, before all charges were dropped in 2002 following an undisclosed settlement, had been named in a high-profile lawsuit brought by the estate of British millionaire Gerald Segelman in one of the most notorious cases of violin fraud in modern times.
Fushi exhibited a long and abiding interest in violins, even providing four rare Italian fiddles for a 2010 project that placed the valuable instruments inside a CAT scanner at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago so that luthiers could better understand their construction.
“Geoff really went out on a limb relative to the way shops typically operate to allow and actively participate in this research project,” says violin maker Terry Borman, who worked on the project.
“There were people saying it was wrong to permit this kind of research, but he stood fast. We accumulated—and generated—a lot of data that is now in the public domain thanks to him. I admire people who are willing to rethink the status quo, decide what is truly best, and stand firm with their convictions—Geoff was one of those people.
“Makers and musicians benefit, and will continue to benefit, from his stance for a long time.”
Yet, Fushi’s most enduring accomplishment may have been his drive to match up-and-coming musicians with stringed instruments equal to their talent.
Quint, for example, plays “Ruby,” a 1708 Strad on loan to him through the Stradivari Society—an organization cofounded by Fushi and his late partner Robert Bein to arrange loans of world-class violins to gifted young players who can’t afford to own million-dollar instruments.
The Stradivari Society, which Bein & Fushi established in 1985 with philanthropist Mary Galvin, has played a key role in the early careers of stars ranging from violinist Joshua Bell to cellist Matt Haimovitz. One of the first loans involved a 10-year-old violinist brought to Fushi’s attention by Juilliard’s noted violin teacher Dorothy DeLay. The petite prodigy needed an excellent violin, and Bein, Fushi, and Galvin put the 1735 ‘David’ del Gesù in the hands of Midori, who went on to conquer Tanglewood and then the string world.
Fushi also organized a number of tours of Asia. “He saw that China is going to be a huge part of classical music’s future, so he invested a lot of time going over there and promoting the musicians,” Alec Fushi says. “The people there are so passionate about the music. I’ve never been to a classical-music event where people outside were getting in fistfights over tickets.”
Fushi’s own passion for the violin went back to childhood, his son says.
Born to working-class parents, Fushi grew up in post-war Chicago. “My grandfather came back from [World War II] and became a carpenter,” Alec says. “There was food on the table, but nothing for extravagances.”
But, at age 7, Geoff heard a violin performance that captured his imagination, and he apparently asked his mother for lessons. “I’m 99 percent sure it was his idea,” Alec says.
“My grandmother took savings that my grandfather never knew about and bought a violin and got him a teacher.”
A few years later, a high-school music contest caught Geoff’s attention. The winner would get to play a Stradivari. The young violinist begged his teacher for extra lessons—and ended up winning.
David Young, a local DuPont scientist, owned the Strad.
“Dave met my dad, saw him practice, and saw that this kid had the same love for violins that he did,” Alec says.
Geoff Fushi didn’t become a legendary violinist, but he went on to know, and in many cases, provide instruments for, many of the 20th century’s greatest string musicians.
“He realized this was another way to be in that world,” Alec says. “And it was something he did until the last day of his life.”