She was born Regina Schein in 1908 in Zurich into a family of Russian Jewish musicians and watchmakers who had settled in Switzerland after escaping from the ghetto in Ekaterinoslav in Russia. She began her studies on the piano but when her teacher hit her knuckles with a ruler she retaliated, thereby terminating all prospects of a career as a pianist.
At 11, "Wecki", as she was known, took lessons on the cello from the celebrated cellist and musicologist Joachim Stutchewsky, and made such phenomenal progress that by the time she was 14 she and her pianist sister Gilia both went straight from school each day to play in their father's band at the silent cinema.
At 21 she married Joseph Feldman, whose business interests were in China. On arrival in Shanghai she discovered that Feldman's friends and relatives spoke only Russian or English. She spoke neither, but within two months taught herself basic Russian by reading the classics and looking up every word in the dictionary.
She continued to play the cello and soon achieved a following on the concert platform. When offered a teaching job at the Manila Academy in the Philippines, she accepted despite the fact that she knew nothing about teaching and spoke no English (the academy's official language). She wrote to Stutchewsky for advice and he sent her a long letter outlining the main principles of teaching; she also set about learning English.
Her husband joined her and for the next four years Regina taught cello and built up a highly successful performing career. But by 1935 the marriage was over and she returned to Europe and continued her studies with Stutchewsky. Within six months she had established a major solo career and become known throughout Europe, one of the highlights being a performance of the Dvork Concerto in Prague under Rafael Kubelik and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1938 she and Stutchewsky married in Switzerland. This coincided with the Nazi invasion of Austria and Stutchewsky, an ardent Zionist, felt they should go to Palestine. For the next two years Regina continued her career in her adopted country, achieving success in cities, villages and kibbutzim alike. She became captivated by the idealism, energy and commitment of the people there, acquiring a vivid sense of Jewish history and a pride in her own Jewish roots.
There were dangers too: in 1940 the Stutchewskys just missed being killed when the Italians bombed Tel Aviv. Regina was injured and her cello smashed to pieces. She borrowed a cello and continued to perform, undaunted by the dangers but inspired by the passion of the audiences. However, the marriage began to flounder and she and her husband agreed to divorce.
None the less her performing career continued to flourish in Palestine, and it was on a concert tour of the Middle East that she met Stanley Gillinson, on leave from the British Army in India, whom she married in Jaffa in 1945. Once again her nomadic existence survived postings from Cairo to Bangladesh and she continued her career, pausing only to give birth to their two children, Clive and Sandra.
After a brief return to England, the family set off for India, where they lived luxuriously for a time. After Gandhi's assassination in 1948 life for Europeans changed and she returned to England with her children. Her husband, who had stayed in India to settle their affairs, shortly afterwards sent a cable asking if she would agree to go and live on a farm in Kenya. Never one to shirk a challenge, she set off for yet another new start in Africa.
Life there was very lonely but, resourceful as ever, Schein discovered a love for gardening that was to remain a consuming passion for the rest of her life. After three years on the farm she decided to return to England in order to send her children to school. It was then that her husband wrote asking for a separation. She was devastated but again accepted the situation with fortitude.
She had to work hard to rebuild her career earning a living through teaching and freelancing. She played regularly with the Goldsborough, the English Chamber Orchestra and the Philharmonia from 1956 until the early 1970s, and was involved in a great deal of chamber music which she loved. She also formed a highly successful trio with the pianist Natalia Karp and the violinist Henriette Cante, made appearances on BBC TV and toured in Europe, as well as touring Israel in 1968 and 1970.
She settled in Priory Gardens in Hampstead, north London, where, in her spare time, she tended her garden with the energy of a woman half her age. Despite the failure of three marriages, she eventually found happiness in a loving relationship with the Viennese-born architect Joseph Berger, notable exponent in Britain of the Viennese Modernist School of Architecture. This was an ideal partnership which endured until Berger died in 1989. She continued to play right up until her death and on her 90th birthday recorded the first movement of the Bach G Major Solo Cello Suite, which was played at her funeral service.
Her son, Clive Gillinson, manager of the London Symphony Orchestra, described her remarkable gift of friendship and her loving, gentle, passionate and enthusiastic nature. "She always had time for everyone and I am proud that all our family have inherited that enthusiasm, even if we do drive people crazy with it at times! She never did anything by halves, whether it was her love for her family, her knitting of squares for blankets for Oxfam, which I think could probably cover the whole of Africa, her garden - which is almost certainly the most beautiful for miles around - and always her music."
He went on to say that music remained the centre of Regina Gillinson- Schein's life. "She never stopped playing or listening to music, and even when she fractured her arm shortly before her 90th birthday, simply started working on the piano until she was able to lift her bow and play her cello again."
Regina Rebecca Schein, cellist: born Zurich, Switzerland 30 April 1908; married 1920 Joseph Feldman (marriage dissolved 1935), 1938 Joachim Stutchewsky (marriage dissolved 1940), 1945 Stanley Gillinson (deceased; one son, and one daughter deceased); died London 7 April 1999.Reuse content