Eleanor Sokoloff dies aged 106


By Ellie Palmer

14 July 2020

The piano professor taught at the Curtis Institute for more than eight decades

Pianist and piano professor Eleanor Sokoloff has passed away aged 106. She died of natural causes in Philadelphia on 12 July.

Sokoloff taught at The Curtis Institute in Philadelphia for more than eight decades – the longest run of teaching in the Institute's history. Her teaching career began back in 1936 when the Institute was a mere seven years old. She taught piano to non-piano majors before becoming a full member of the piano faculty in 1950.

The Institute commented, "Curtis 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."

During her time at the Institute, Eleanor met her future husband Vladimir Sokoloff, whom she was married to until his death in 1997. The pair formed a piano duo, and performed together until they had children.

Eleanor with her husband Vladimir

Eleanor's past students included Susan Starr, Hugh Sung, Lambert Orkis, Claire Huangci, Kit Armstrong, and Leon McCawley. Upon news of her passing, McCawley commented, "Mrs. Sokoloff was a true life-force and a teacher that was incredibly giving and encouraging. I feel very blessed to have studied with her during my time at the Curtis Institute and will treasure many happy memories. She will never be forgotten and continue to live through my own playing and teaching".

Leon McCawley with Sokoloff

Incredibly, she was still teaching at the Institute up until the Covid-19 pandemic forced its doors to close.

“My life has been one lucky episode after another," she told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2009:  I’ve had some heartache, too. But with my disposition, it doesn’t last.”

Picture credits: © Curtis Institute of Music