Epstein, Selma (1927—)

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Epstein, Selma (1927—)

American pianist, internationally known for her performances of 20th-century composers. Born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 14, 1927; daughter of Tillie (Schneider) Schectman and Samuel Schectman; studied at Juilliard with Rosina Lhevinne and at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music with Edward Steuermann; married Joseph Epstein (a concert pianist).

Selma Epstein began her long concert career with a performance at Carnegie Hall when she was 15. She continued her studies at Juilliard where she was Rosina Lhevinne 's youngest student, then received the D. Hendrick Ezerman Foundation Scholarship at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music where she studied with Edward Steuermann. After beginning her concert career, Epstein began to realize that few modern composers' works appeared in concert halls. Contemporary composers did not always face great obstacles to having their works performed. At one time, performers wanted only works "hot off the press," but, as the repertoire became increasingly set in the 19th century, contemporary composers suffered. Epstein decided to pioneer contemporary music, a decision that was not motivated by a desire to enhance her career, because the obstacles women face as performers are increased for those who dedicate their efforts to contemporary music.

Epstein concertized in Europe and America, but her tours of Australia were to have a profound effect on her professional life. On a second tour, she was invited to teach at the New South Wales Conservatorium, the first American ever offered a major teaching post there. From 1972 to 1975, Epstein became a resident recording artist for the Australian Broadcasting Company. During this time, Ella Grainger asked Epstein to record some of the unpublished music of her husband Percy Grainger, the first native Australian to achieve worldwide fame as a conductor and composer. Epstein not only recorded and performed his music, but she founded the American Grainger Society to promote the composer's works at a series of international festivals and began to perform all-Grainger concerts. Eventually, her efforts helped to establish his work in international concert halls. Epstein also devoted her energies to promoting other 20th-century composers. Her determination to introduce contemporary composers to music audiences gained her international acclaim.


"Selma Epstein. Concert Pianist, Teacher" in Le Page, Jane Wiener. Women Composers, Conductors, and Musicians of the Twentieth Century: Selected Biographies. Vol. II. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1988, pp. 104–114.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia