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Curtis Mourns the Death of Eleanor Sokoloff

The school’s longest-serving faculty member passed away on July 12 at age 106

Eleanor Sokoloff pours tea from a golden samovar in Graffman Common RoomCurtis is deeply saddened at the passing of piano faculty member Eleanor Sokoloff, who taught at the school for 84 years. Mrs Sokoloff died on July 12 at age 106.

Renowned for her perceptive teaching, her irrepressible enthusiasm, and her remarkable hats, Mrs. Sokoloff guided generations of piano students as the longest-serving member of the Curtis faculty.

Mrs. Sokoloff, then Eleanor Blum, entered Curtis as a student of David Saperton in 1931, and began teaching here in 1936—even before her graduation in 1938. She formed a piano duo with her husband, Vladimir Sokoloff (Accompanying ’38), who taught piano accompanying and coached singers at Curtis until 1994 (he passed away in 1997). In her first years on the faculty, she taught “secondary piano” to students majoring in other disciplines, then joined the primary piano faculty. Over the next eight decades she guided so many students that she lost count—but the total included 75 students who played with the Philadelphia Orchestra. She was honored at Commencement in May 2014 with a lifetime achievement award to mark her 100th birthday and her immense contributions to the school.

Mrs. Sokoloff continued to teach students at her Rittenhouse Square apartment through the 2019–20 school year. Adored by her students past and present, she was a repository of Curtis history and a fixture behind the samovar at Wednesday-afternoon tea. She was quick to share tales from her storied past with remarkable detail and affection; and yet was also remarkably forward-looking, welcoming new developments at Curtis and in the broader musical world. Reflecting on her long and happy association with Curtis, she told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2009: “My life has been one lucky episode after another. I’ve had some heartache, too. But with my disposition, it doesn’t last.”

Mrs. Sokoloff gave herself fully to her students, to Curtis, and to music. Curtis is forever indebted to her and extends deepest condolences to her daughters, Laurie (Flute ’66) and Katharine, and to all her family, friends, and students.

 


 

Share Your Memories

We invite you to share your memories of Mrs. Sokoloff with Curtis, as we prepare our community’s tribute to her life and legacy. Please submit your reflections through the online form below.

SUBMIT MEMORIES


Curtis is working to plan events to honor Mrs. Sokoloff’s memory, both online and at Curtis when it is possible to gather in-person once again. Additional information will follow as soon as it is available.

In lieu of flowers, the Sokoloff family has asked that tribute gifts be made to the Curtis Institute of Music. Information can be found here.

 


 

In Photos

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Mrs. Sokoloff socializes with parents, students, and alumni prior to Commencement in 2014. She served tea at the yearly celebration, as well as most Wednesday afternoons in Graffman Common Room.

Photo: David Swanson

 

 

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Mrs. Sokoloff formed a piano duo with her husband, Vladimir Sokoloff. Here the pair practices together.

 

 

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Mrs. Sokoloff waves to an applauding crowd in 2014 as she accepts a lifetime achievement award honoring her immense contributions to the school over more than three-quarters of a century.

Photo: David Swanson

 

 

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Mrs. Sokoloff joined former student Susan Starr and director Gary Graffman in a panel discussion at a Curtis alumni reunion in 2001.

Photo: Richard Kraemer

 

 

 


 

From the Philadelphia Inquirer

Peter Dobrin, a longtime friend of Mrs. Sokoloff, penned this obituary for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

READ OBITUARY

 

“Ebony and Ivory—and Longevity”

In 2009, Mr. Dobrin profiled Mrs. Sokoloff for the newspaper, in an article that was reprinted in the Curtis magazine, Overtones.

READ ARTICLE

 


 

Listen 

When Eleanor Blum gave her graduation recital in 1938, it included a performance with her piano-duo partner, Vladimir Sokoloff. Their Brahms performance was repeated for the Curtis Institute of Music's regular broadcast series on CBS Radio. The two were both teachers at Curtis at the time, and would soon marry.

Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a 
Eleanor Blum and Vladimir Sokoloff, piano 
Recorded March 2, 1938 in Casimir Hall (now Field Concert Hall) and broadcast over CBS Radio 

 


 

Watch

Enjoy “Mrs. Sokoloff,” a film by D’Arcy Marsh, which was made in honor of Eleanor Sokoloff’s 100th birthday.