Curtis loses its senior teacher

Curtis loses its senior teacher


norman lebrecht

July 13, 2020

Eleanor Sokoloff died yesterday, aged 106.

She was loved by everyone, and had contact with every pianist in the building, from nine yearolds to Lang Lang.

Dear Curtis Community,

I am writing today with very sad news. Our beloved Eleanor Sokoloff passed away earlier today 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 our 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, who taught at Curtis until 1994 (he passed away in 1997). In more than 83 years of active teaching, 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 over more than three-quarters of a century.

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 she was also remarkably forward-looking, welcoming new developments at Curtis and in the broader musical world.

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

Mrs. Sokoloff gave herself fully to her students, to Curtis, and to music. We are forever indebted to her and will miss her deeply. We extend our deepest condolences to her daughters, Laurie (Flute ‘66) and Katharine, and to all her family, friends, and students.

We are working with our faculty and staff on events to honor Mrs. Sokoloff’s memory, both online and at Curtis when we are able to gather in-person once again. Additional information will follow as soon as it is available.


Roberto Diaz.

Earlier article by Peter Dobrin here.



  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Eleanor Sokoloff, an institution within the Institute. Her larger than life personality, her love for her students. and her frankness were unforgettable. May she rest in peace except for the moments when she and her beloved Billy play duets for Mary Louise, Zimmie, Aaron, Claude, Seymour, Joey, Naomi, and all the gang in that Casimir Hall in the sky.

  • E says:

    Quelle grande dame.

  • Grittenhouse says:

    Patricia Pence-Sokoloff, I think her sister-in-law, is still living in North Carolina. I’ve forgotten the relation, but her husband was a conductor in Cleveland, I think. Brother or nephew. Pat was a harpist, student of Salzedo, of course.