Remembering Deborah Hoffman


Deborah Hoffman 1960–2014

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Principal Harpist

Deborah Hoffman, principal harpist of the Metropolitan Opera, lost her battle with a rare lung condition in February at the age of 53.

Deborah was an amazing musician, remarkable harpist, and extraordinary woman. She was an inspiration to many, and she is sorely missed by all who knew her.

The youngest born into a famous musical family, Deborah garnered a multitude of impressive accolades in her career as she pushed the boundaries of performance, sound, and musicality. As a dynamic and determined young woman fresh out of school, she won the coveted Metropolitan Opera principal harp position in 1987 and held it until her death. She enjoyed a long and outstanding international career and was highly respected by harpists and musicians alike.

Over the course of her career she was a top prize winner of the 7th International Harp Contest in Israel (1979), first prize winner of the American Harp Society National Competition (1981), solo recitalist at the first World Harp Congress in the Netherlands (1981), and soloist with the National Symphonies of Venezuela, Costa Rica, Colombia, and in New York with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and the Met Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, under the baton of James Levine. In addition to her principal harp position with the Met Opera, she also served as second harpist of the Pittsburgh Symphony and principal harpist of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. A strong chamber musician, she was regularly in demand at major music festivals such as Verbier, La Jolla, Caramoor, Spoleto, Saratoga, Sitka, Saint Nazaire, and Aspen to name a few. A passionate and dedicated master harp teacher, she taught at both the Verbier and Aspen Music Festivals, while serving as the chairperson of the harp department at the Manhattan School of Music for 17 years. Deborah was extremely generous with her time and gave masterclasses worldwide and performances for the American Harp Society and the World Harp Congress.

Deborah studied at the Juilliard School, where she obtained both her Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees under legendary teacher Susann McDonald. Over the course of 28 years in affiliation with the Metropolitan Opera, she recorded numerous operatic albums and live broadcasts. She also completed a Grammy-nominated recording of original transcriptions of Chopin works for flute and harp on the Arabesque Records label.

From her New York Times obituary: “As a young child she had such a naturally gifted ear that she was able to memorize pieces on first hearing. Her keen awareness of orchestral texture enabled her to unfailingly know exactly when and how to fit in. Early in her professional career she discovered that she had somehow developed the capacity to mind-read conductors to know exactly what their intentions were. This made her the favorite of many maestros. ‘I can always count on her for exactly what I want,’ said James Levine, Music Director at the Met. ‘She’s a great musician, she’s a great harpist, she’s a great colleague, she’s a great citizen in the orchestra.’ Those who knew her can never forget her delightful sense of humor, positive attitude, enthusiasm, animated facial expressions, and intellectual curiosity. Ever-present and aware, she could remember details from conversations or events that took place years in the past. A person of impeccable integrity, she had that rare capability of always speaking the truth, yet almost never offending. She is survived by her mother, Esther Glazer, and father, Irwin Hoffman, her brothers, Joel, Gary and Toby, her husband, Roger Nierenberg, nephews and nieces Sascha, Benjamin, Natania, Nasu, Solomon, and two step-children, David and Rachel Nierenberg.”

I honor and thank Deborah Hoffman for her amazing spirit. She was the atypical New York superstar who somehow always made time for me, even when she had none. Whether I was preparing to record an album, learning notes for an audition, solidifying the final touches for an important solo concert, or needed life advice, Deborah was there for me. She was incredibly generous, loving, kind, brilliant, sensitive, and determined. She had a fiery look in her eye and a lust for life. She has inspired me to continue to try to be the very best musician, harpist, teacher, and most importantly, soul, that I can be. She has taught me to face my fears, and for all of this and more, I am truly grateful.

You are deeply loved and missed by us all, Deborah. Thank you for all that you gave this world. You are a gem, and your spirit boldly lives on. •

—Grace Cloutier

You can learn more about Deborah Hoffman at a memorial website that honors her life at

Editor’s note: the following information originally appeared on our website: 

Slipped Disc has reported that harpist Deborah Hoffman today lost her battle with a rare lung condition at age 53. Hoffman joined the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in 1986 as principal harpist, and was chair of the harp department at Manhattan School of Music. She was a top prizewinner at the Seventh International Harp Contest in Israel, along with the 1981 American Harp Society National Competition. Harp Column will share more information when it becomes available, and we encourage you to leave your comments here.

Update: The New York Times has published an obituary for Deborah Hoffman; a funeral will be held on Thursday, February 13 at 3:00 p.m. at the Riverside Memorial Chapel at 180 West 76 Street, New York.


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  1. Thank you Grace for a wonderful article on Deborah Hoffman. Although I have never met her in person, I’m fortunate enough to be working at the institution where she taught. I work at Manhattan School of Music, and I attended the memorial services, where four wonderful harpists played to the heavens for teacher they really appreciated and were inspired by. It was beautiful, she meant a lot to the school. I made my donation toward the harp initiative; memorial harp. I’m praying that the memorial harp initiative can produce a beautiful harp that will match the magnificent spirit of Deborah Hoffman.

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