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Curtis Institute names pianist Michelle Cann to new chair honoring legendary professor Eleanor Sokoloff

Cann, a Curtis graduate, will teach private lessons as well as coach chamber music, and hopes her role will be even more expansive.

Pianist Michelle Cann
Pianist Michelle CannRead moreJiyang Chen

The Curtis Institute of Music has created a position in honor of Eleanor Sokoloff, the legendary piano professor who taught at the school for more than eight decades, and the school has named Philadelphia pianist Michelle Cann to fill the spot.

The 2013 Curtis graduate takes up the inaugural Eleanor Sokoloff chair in piano studies with duties she expects to begin in the new year. Sokoloff died in July at age 106.

Cann will teach private lessons as well as coach chamber music, and said Tuesday that she hopes her role will be even more expansive. Nothing is set, but she envisions making mentorship connections between Curtis students and young musicians in the city.

She also hopes to broaden the career-soloist mind-set with which some students enter Curtis.

“The world is really changing, and I think it’s extremely important to be more than great pianists who sit in the practice room for hours to win a competition and get a solo career,” said Cann. “That’s not to say that that work isn’t important, but we are at a point for every conservatory to take it much farther than that. It’s important for Curtis students to be much more well-rounded.”

Cann, 33, has performed with the Florida Orchestra and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and in early 2021 is slated as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra in its first performance of Florence Price’s Concerto in One Movement. She holds two degrees in piano performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music. At Curtis, she studied with Robert McDonald, who remains on the piano faculty.

Curtis, in October, also named pianist Yefim Bronfman to its faculty.

Eleanor Sokoloff taught at Curtis for 84 years, and frequently spoke about the hurdles facing female pianists in what has been a male-dominated field. The chair newly named in her honor is intended to be held in perpetuity “only by an exceptionally gifted and forward-thinking female pianist,” according to Curtis’ announcement, and was created with support from Curtis piano alumnus William A. Horn and the Sokoloff family.