Cellist Elisabeth Furniss, born in Düsseldorf in 1966 of American-Jewish heritage, is a third-generation professional musician and teacher. Her earliest influences and happiest memories are of her father arranging chamber music for her and her sister; her father making music playable, fun and fascinating. It is little wonder that her two most cherished pastimes became playing chamber music and teaching. Elisabeth spent her childhood in Hamburg where her parents both worked at the opera house. The family’s summers were spent teaching and participating at the Music Adademy of the West in Santa Barbara, where many world class musicians like Gregor Piatigorsky, Jerome Lowenthal and Zwi Zeitlin inspired their audiences in master classes.
Also the suburb of Hamburg where the family lived was inspirational; there were few families it seemed that did not participate in music of some kind. Elisabeth moved to Los Angeles at age 17, graduating in 1987 with a “summa cum laude” – degree in Cello Performance under the tutelage of Hungarian Casals-pupil Gabor Rejto at the University of Southern California. At university, she began teaching and playing in a variety of ensembles, winning prizes for her contributions to chamber music and performed for three years with the Contemporary Music Ensemble of the Schoenberg Institute under conductors and composers Donald Crockett and Leonard Stein, culminating in a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall. She was later to found her own ensemble for contemporary music in Münster in memory of her experiences at the Schoenberg Institute with colleagues and friends from the orchestra there, calling themselves “Compania”, an ensemble still performing today committed to making contemporary music enjoyable and fascinating .
In 1987 she moved to London to join the class of William Pleeth, OBE, where she soon became member of the Piano Trio Kolisher with whom she concertized in Britain and Europe. She also began work as an orchestral player as a substitute with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. 1990 saw her debut recital at the London Wigmore Hall with pianist Phillip Moll. Also in 1990, she moved back to Germany, where she took a post as “Vorspieler” cellist in the Symphony Orchestra of the City of Münster, a post she held until 2014. Before commencing her teaching career, she concertized as much as her family and orchestra commitments permitted, throughout Europe, mainly as a chamber musician.
Besides preparing her students for the life of professional orchestral musicians and teachers, she has worked and continues to work to create new structures within the school serving to enhance the students’ learning experience.
She initiated not only new concert series and master classes, she ran the project “mensch.musik”, in which the school reinvented itself.
She initiated and today is on the leadership team of the “Jugendakademie”, a unique institution straddling the “Westfälische Schule für Musik” and the Musikhochschule Münster, educating particularly keen and gifted young musicians from the ages of 6 to 18. Furthermore, she is responsible for the ideation and implementation of the new course of Applied Music Psychology and Physiology at the Musikhochschule Münster, answering the growing demand for psychological knowledge to be made accessible and useful for music students. Extremely sought-after as a teacher, she prepares young cellists for college and competitions and finished musicians for orchestral auditions and support in their application for teaching positions. Additionally, she enjoys working with adult semi-professionals, amateurs and chamber music groups.
She has a deep knowledge of all types of performance anxiety, and many performers struggling with these problems seek her out for consultations. A lively and engaging speaker, she frequently moderates concerts and recently spoke for the first time at the “KinderUni” lecture series in Münster to high acclaim. Her concert tours, often with pianist Peter von Wienhardt and his ensemble, have taken her throughout the world, although as a mother of five she has preferred to play concerts closer to home. Elisabeth plays an Italian cello by the Fratelli Fiori from 1812 and a bow by Nicolas Maire. She is married and has five children, of which some have already flown the coop.