Curtis mourns its ‘heart and soul’

Curtis mourns its ‘heart and soul’


norman lebrecht

June 19, 2019

The Curtis Institute has issued the following tribute to Naomi Graffman, who died yesterday aged 90.

In Memoriam: Naomi Graffman

Curtis mourns the loss of Naomi Graffman, who passed away on June 17 at age 90 after a long illness. The wife of our longtime piano faculty and former president, Gary Graffman, Mrs. Graffman was a cherished member of our community and played a vital part at Curtis during the 20 years of her husband’s leadership. A gifted writer and editor with a flair for organization and a wonderful sense of humor, she made important and enduring contributions to the school, notably in publications and the library. Above all, she is remembered fondly by alumni for her faithful service behind the samovar at Wednesday afternoon tea. “Naomi was the heart and soul of Curtis for two decades,” said Roberto Díaz, Curtis’s president, who succeeded Mr. Graffman in 2006. “She offered her famous homemade brownies at tea, and delighted in hearing about students’ daily lives and musical milestones. She was an incomparable partner to Gary and friend to the school, and she will be deeply missed by us all.”

Mrs. Graffman’s connection with Curtis dated from her childhood. She was the daughter of a Curtis-trained composer, Max Helfman (’32), who commuted from their New York home to study with Rosario Scalero. She once recalled visiting Curtis as a young child, standing in the room that would later bear the Graffmans’ name: “I remember the Common Room with awe, because of the ceiling. … When people used to ask me when I was about three years old, ‘Where is your Daddy,’ I would say, ‘Daddy has gone to Philadelphia to teach Mr. Scalero.’” As a young woman, she worked in concert management at Columbia Artists, and met Mr. Graffman, then a rising concert pianist, through her work. For more than 65 years she was his partner, collaborator, and editor. The Graffmans’ longstanding commitment to Curtis was honored in 2006 with the dedication of the Gary and Naomi Graffman Common Room in the school’s main building; and the creation of the Gary and Naomi Graffman Scholarship Fund, which provides need-based student financial assistance.



  • Luigi Nonono says:

    I had no idea who her father was. He was a wonderful composer. She should also be remembered for largely writing Gary’s best-selling book, I Really Should Be Practicing.