Eleanor Sokoloff (’38) celebrates her 100th birthday this summer. Mrs. Sokoloff is the oldest and longest-serving member of the Curtis faculty. She entered Curtis in 1931 and started teaching supplementary piano in 1936, before graduating in 1938. Eleanor Blum married fellow student Vladimir (“Billy”) Sokoloff shortly before they graduated, and Billy also joined the faculty. During their last year as students they studied duo-piano playing, a discipline that had just been introduced at Curtis; it was discontinued after one year due to financial constraints. This performance by Eleanor Blum and Billy Sokoloff, playing Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Haydn, was recorded during a radio broadcast from Casimir Hall (now Field Concert Hall) on March 2, 1938 and provides a rare opportunity to hear their joint artistry.
To hear the music, click the “play” button.
We have asked Gary Graffman (’46), Seymour Lipkin (’47), Robert McDonald (’77), Meng-Chieh Liu (’93), Ignat Solzhenitsyn (’95), and Jonathan Biss (’01), all members of the Curtis piano faculty, for a brief reflection on Eleanor Sokoloff as a fellow pianist and teacher. Other alumni are invited to add their own comments in the comment box! (scroll to the bottom of this page.)
Gary Graffman (’46):
It was wonderful to hear Eleanor and Billy Sokoloff playing the Brahms-Haydn Variations. It’s a terrific performance and brings back all sorts of happy memories. When they made this recording in 1938 I was ten, but already a veteran of two seasons at Curtis. So Eleanor and I were schoolmates for a time, although she was almost a grownup and I was a pre-teen twerp. Over the years I’ve tried valiantly to catch up with her but it can’t be done. What can I say? She’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Seymour Lipkin (’47):
Dear Eleanor: Lucky us, that we have had you with us for so many years, to set high standards with your tremendous knowledge, both of music and of piano playing, together with your sharpest of ears. We all wish to continue to have this good luck for many more years to come. Most affectionate regards from Seymour.
Robert McDonald (’77):
Reflecting on Eleanor’s extraordinary relationship to the history of Curtis and its piano department inspires extravagant admiration and no small degree of awe. Her elegant, demanding, and unfailingly intelligent and wise presence remains forever indispensable to the integrity of the school and all that it continues to represent. It is a privilege and a great pleasure to stand in her exceptional company.
Meng-Chieh Liu (’93):
I am proud to have known both Dr. and Mrs. Sokoloff. When I came to study at Curtis in 1985, Dr. Sokoloff was an indispensable fixture around the school. His vast knowledge of music inspired me to play just as much chamber music as solo music, and one would sense his commitment to music from his daily practice early morning to his presence in almost every student recital in the evening. Mrs. Sokoloff was a fixture of a different sort: at first sight, she is a figure that intimidates and instills fears in students. Her strict and methodical approach of training young students has produced countless musicians. However, the longer I have known her, the more respect I have for this profoundly loving human being. Curtis history has been enriched and decorated not only by her presence but also by her deep commitment to her alma mater and her love for education. I am so grateful that I had a chance to grow under two of the most incredible people I have met.
Ignat Solzhenitsyn (’95):
What thoughtful, elegant, unforced playing, especially in the relaxed clarity of Variation 5 and the shimmering incandescence of the Passacaglia. Not only is the balance between the pianos almost faultless, but it is achieved in a strikingly intelligent fashion that allows Brahms’ intricate textures and voice-leading to emerge in their full splendor. Light pedaling, judicious rubato, flowing tempi—all these belie the supposed turbidity of that age, and lend a deliciously “modern” flavor to this extraordinary historical document. Bravi, Mr. and Mrs. Sokoloff!
Jonathan Biss (’01):
What never ceases to amaze me about Mrs. Sokoloff –warm and welcoming as she is, I will never be able to address her as “Eleanor”– is her razor-sharp ear and her unjaundiced eye. While it is true that she represents a link to Curtis’s early days and to the musical titans of that era, she has her feet firmly planted in the present, and her most deeply-held and fiercely-defended values –quality, discipline, and integrity– are timeless. The energy and passion with which she has devoted herself to teaching over the better part of a century are remarkable to the point of being just slightly intimidating! Thank you, Mrs. Sokoloff, for the inspiration and the example you have provided the rest of us.