Tania León, (b. Havana, Cuba) is highly regarded as a composer and conductor and recognized for her accomplishments as an educator and advisor to arts organizations. She has been profiled on ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Univision, Telemundo, and independent films.
León's opera Scourge of Hyacinths, based on a play by Wole Soyinka with staging and design by Robert Wilson, received over 20 performances throughout Europe and Mexico. Commissioned by Hans Werner Henze and the city of Munich for the Fourth Munich Biennale, it took home the coveted BMW Prize. The aria "Oh Yemanja" ("Mother's Prayer") was recorded by Dawn Upshaw on her Nonesuch CD, "The World So Wide."
Commissions include works for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, New World Symphony, Koussevitzky Foundation, Fest der Kontinente (Hamburg, Germany), Cincinnati Symphony, NEA, NDR Sinfonie Orchester, American Composers Orchestra, The Library of Congress, Ensemble Modern, The Los Angeles Master Chorale, and The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, among others.
Her works have been performed by such orchestras as the Gewaundhausorchester, L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the China National Symphony, and the NDR Orchestra. She has collaborated with authors and directors including John Ashbury, Margaret Atwood, Rita Dove, Jamaica Kincaid, Mark Lamos, Julie Taymor, and Derek Walcott.
León has appeared as guest conductor with the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Marseille, the Orquesta Sinfonica de Asturias, L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Orquesta Filarmonica de Bogota, the Gewaundhausorchester, Chamber Orchestra of Geneve, Switzerland, the Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra, Mexico, Symphony Orchestra of Johannesburg, and the WaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, South Africa, as well as the Orquesta de la Comunidad y Coro de Madrid, and the New York Philharmonic, among others.
She has lectured at Harvard University and at the prestigious Mosse Lecture series at the University of Humboldt in Berlin and was the Andrew Mellon Foundation's Distinguished Scholar at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. León was also Visiting Professor at Yale University, Guest Composer/Conductor at the Hamburg Musikschule, Germany and the Beijing Central Conservatory, China.
A founding member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, León instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series, co-founded the Sonidos de las Américas festivals with the American Composers Orchestra, and the Composers Now festival in New York City. She also served as Latin American Advisor to the American Composers Orchestra and New Music Advisor to the New York Philharmonic.
Her honors include the New York Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Fromm, Guggenheim Fellowships, and Symphony Space's Access to the Arts Award. León has also received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Colgate University, Oberlin, and SUNY Purchase College, and has served as U.S. Artistic Ambassador of American Culture in Madrid, Spain. A Professor at Brooklyn College since 1985, she was named Distinguished Professor of the City University of New York in 2006. In 2010 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Tania León, born in Cuba, a vital personality on today's music scene, is highly regarded as a composer and conductor recognized for her accomplishments as an educator and advisor to arts organizations.
She has been the subject of profiles on ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Univision (including their noted series "Orgullo Hispano" which celebrates living American Latinos whose contributions in society have been invaluable), Telemundo and independent films.
2012 saw the premiere of León's going...gone as part of Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano, a project that brought together leading composers from many fields to reimagine their favorite Sondheim songs as solo piano works. In March 2009, the ballet Inura, with music by Tania León and choreography by Carlos dos Santos was premiered by Dance Brazil at Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Other recent premieres include Esencia para Cuarteto de Cuerdas, commissioned by the Fromm Foundation for the Del Sol String Quartet; Ácana for orchestra, a joint commission, premiered by Orpheus at Carnegie Hall and the Purchase College Orchestra; Ancients for 2 sopranos and mixed ensemble commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts for the Festival on the Hill 2008; Alma for flute and piano, commissioned by Marya Martin; and Atwood Songs for soprano and piano with text by Margaret Atwood, commissioned by the Eastman School of Music and Syracuse University.
In March 2008 Ms. León served as U.S. Artistic Ambassador of American Culture in Madrid, Spain. In April, she held a Composer/Conductor residency at the Beijing Central Conservatory, China. The National Symphony of China offered the Chinese Premiere of Horizons at the opening concert of the Beijing International Congress of Women in Music.
Recent awards include a 2008 Pulitzer Prize nomination for Ácana, 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship and a Fromm Music Foundation commission in 2005. She was named Distinguished Professor of the City University of New York in 2006. She received "La Distinción de Honor de la Rosa Blanca" from the Patronato José Martí for her contribution to Cuban culture in the field of music in 2008.
Tania León was one of the first artists to be featured by Harlem Stage in Aaron Davis Hall's new program, WaterWorks. Her two year residency at Harlem Stage culminated in the world premiere of Reflections for soprano and chamber ensemble with text by Rita Dove.
An evening of León's chamber music was presented as part of Columbia University's Miller Theatre Composer Portrait series. The New York Times noted that "A hidden Latin American dance rhythm provides a fixed point upon which she attaches other overlapping and enormously varied rhythmic patterns. Ms. León animates her tart atonal harmonies.... intense, hard-driving yet elusive... the concert attracted a large, mostly young and encouragingly diverse audience." For the full review, click here.
In March 2005, Ms. León joined forces with Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka, with whom she collaborated on her award-winning opera Scourge of Hyacinths. Based on Soyinka's Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known, the new work celebrated the opening of the Shaw Center for the Performing Arts in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
León's work has been featured in celebrations of some of the most prestigious composers of our time including performances of Rituál and Mistica during the Chicago Symphony's MusicNow "Pierre Boulez's 80th Birthday Celebration". Duende, for Baritone, Bata ensemble and Orchestral Percussion premiered in September 2003 at the Fest der Kontinente in Berlin, Germany, commissioned in honor of Gyorgy Ligeti's 80th birthday. Fanfarria for brass ensemble was commissioned by and premiered at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, in celebration of the Copland Centennial.
In the past few years, León has appeared as guest conductor throughout Europe, including subscription series concerts of the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Marseille, the Orchestre Symphonique de Nancy, in France, the Orquesta Sinfonica de Asturias, Spain, L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Santa Cecilia Orchestra, Rome, Italy, the Gewaundhausorchester, Leipzig, Germany, as well as the Orquesta de la Comunidad y Coro de Madrid, Spain.
In March 2001, León's opera Scourge of Hyacinths received three performances during the Festival Centro Historico in Mexico City. Staged and designed by Robert Wilson and conducted by the composer, the work is based on a radio play by Wole Soyinka. The opera was commissioned in 1994 by the Munich Biennale, where it won the BMW Prize as best new opera of the festival. In 1999, it was given seventeen performances to great acclaim by the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland, the Opéra de Nancy et de Lorraine in France and the St. Pölten Festspielhaus, Austria. The aria Oh Yemanja ("Mother's Prayer" from Hyacinths) was recorded by Dawn Upshaw on her Nonesuch CD "The World So Wide".
León's orchestral work Desde... was premiered by the American Composers Orchestra March 2001 in Carnegie Hall. Its composition was supported by a grant from the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation. Horizons for orchestra was written for the NDR Symphony Orchestra of Hamburg and premiered there at the July 1999 Hammoniale Festival. In August 2000, the work had its United States premiere at the Tanglewood Contemporary Music Festival. Her hour-long multimedia work Drummin' juxtaposes ethnic percussion ensembles with orchestra. The work, which features percussionists of diverse cultures, has received acclaimed performances in Miami, FL and Hamburg, Germany.
Collaborations with award-winning poets include ... or like a with John Ashbery, Love After Love with Derek Walcott, Singin' Sepia and Reflections with Rita Dove, A Row of Buttons with Fae Myenne Ng, Rezos with Jamaica Kincaid and Atwood Songs, with Margaret Atwood.
Her honors include the New York Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award, Honorary Doctorate degrees from Colgate University, Oberlin and Purchase College. In 2007, The New York City Council presented a Proclamation to Ms. León for her personal achievements. In 2010 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Awards for her compositions include the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, NYSCA, the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund, ASCAP, Meet the Composer and the Koussevitzky Foundation, among others. In 1998 she held the Fromm Residency at the American Academy in Rome. In 2002, León served as President of the Concorso Internationale di Composizione "2 Agosto" in Bologna, Italy.
In 1969 León became a founding member and first Music Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem establishing the Dance Theatre's Music Department, Music School and Orchestra. She instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series in 1978 and in 1994 co-founded the American Composers Orchestra Sonidos de las Americas Festivals in her capacity as Latin American Music Advisor. From 1993 to 1997 she was New Music Advisor to Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic. In 2010 León co-founded "Composers Now", a city wide Festival celebrating contemporary composers in New York City.
She has made appearances as guest conductor with the Beethovenhalle Orchestra, Bonn, the National Symphony Orchestra of Johannesburg, South Africa, the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, Holland, the Chicago Sinfonietta and the New York Philharmonic, among others.
León has been Visiting Lecturer at Harvard University, Visiting Professor at Yale University, the University of Michigan, the University of Kansas, Purchase College, the Musikschule in Hamburg and the Jazz Composer Orchestra Institute. In 2000 she was named the Claire and Leonard Tow Professor in Music at Brooklyn College, and Distinguished Professor of the City University of New York since 2006. In 2010 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
TO KNOW MORE ABOUT TANIA'S CONTRIBUTION TO THE BROOKLYN PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA, check out How Music Grew in Brooklyn, a biography of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra written by Maurice Edwards, published by The Scarecrow Press. The biography is a full account of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra from its nineteenth-century forerunner, the Philharmonic Society of Brooklyn, to its current status as house orchestra for the equally impressive Brooklyn Academy of Music. A chapter is dedicated to the orchestra's Community Concert Series, co-founded by Tania, and for which she served as Music Director from the late 70's to the late 80's.
Tania León: What it Means to be an American Composer. Published in newmusicbox.org, the web magazine from the American Music Center.
Awards & Honors:
ASCAP's Life Achievement Award, 2013
ASCAP Plus Award, 2012
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Distinguished Scholar, 2012
Access to the Arts, 2011
Inducted to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2010
Latin Grammy Nomination for Best Classical Contemporary Composition, 2010
ASCAP Standard Award. 2010
Meet the Composer/MetLife Creative Connections, 2009
UCross Foundation. Wyoming, 2009
Pulitzer Prize Orpheus Nomination. "Acana" for Orchestra, 2008
U.S. Artistic Ambassador of American Culture in Madrid, Spain, 2008
Guggenheim Fellowship Award. Music Composition, 2007
Honorary Doctorate in Music, SUNY Purchase, 2007
Ignacio Cervantes Lifetime Achievement Medal. The Cuban Cultural Center. Tania León: A Celebration and a Tribute. Weill Recital Hall, 2006
The Council of the City of New York Proclamation, 2006
Distinguished Professor, City University of New York, 2006
Best of 2005. ARTFORUM. Concert of Tania León chamber music at Aaron Davis Hall, NYC
Fromm Music Foundation Commission, 2005
Meet the Composer awards, 1975- present
ASCAP Composer's Awards, 1978-present
Nathan Cummings Foundation Award to Aaron Davis Hall "WaterWorks" commission, 2005
NY Times review of Tania León Portrait Concert at Columbia University's Miller Theatre
Feature article in Yamaha's "Accent" magazine, Summer 2004
Portraits of Latino Achievement. Exhibition. Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives. 2003-06
Aaron Copland Fund for Music 2003 Recording Program awarded to Bridge Records for "Music of Tania León"
Coalition of 100 Black Women. 2003
National Women's History Month Honoree, 2003. National Women's History Project
Civitella Ranieri Fellowship, 2003-2004
Arts International Award, 2002
Meet the Composer Music/USA, 2002
Honorary Doctorate, Oberlin College, 2002
National Endowment for the Arts, 2002
Leonard and Claire Tow Professor of Music at Brooklyn College, 2000-2004
Serge Koussevitzky Composition Award, 2000
New York State Council on the Arts, 2000
Honorary doctorate, Colgate University, 1999
New York State Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award, 1998
Brooklyn College Creative Achievement Award, 1998
American Music Center Letter of Distinction, 1997
El Diario de la Mujer Achievement Award, 1997
Meet the Composer/Reader's Digest Commission Award, 1995
Chamber Music America Commission Award, 1995
ASCAP Morton Gould Award for Innovative Programming, 1995
New York University Award for Distinguished Alumni, 1994
New York State Council on the Arts Commission Award, 1994
Munich Biennial for New Music Theatre Award for Composition, 1994
Meet the Composer/Reader's Digest Commission Award, 1992
American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Music, 1991
New York Mayoral Award for Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series, 1989
Mary Flagler Carey Trust Award, 1989
New York State Council on the Arts Award, 1988
Manhattan Arts Award, 1985
Dean Dixon Achievement Award, 1985
Queens Council on the Arts Award, 1983
Key to The City of Detroit, 1982
Byrd Hoffman Foundation Award, 1981
National Council of Women of the United States Achievement Award, 1980
Cintas Award in Composition, 1976, 1979
Nation Endowment for the Arts Award, 1975
Alvin Johnson Award, 1971
American Council for Emigres Award, 1971
Commissions & Grants:
Classical Movements. Choral work for the San Francisco Girls Chorus, 2011
Clarion Concerts. String trio to honor music director Sanford Allen, 2011
Foundation for Iberian Music. Piano work for Adam Kent, 2011
LIAISONS: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano. Piano work for Anthony de Mare, 2011
Work for piano and percussion for Jade Simmons and Craig Hauschildt. 2010
Piano work for Vassily Primakov, 2010
San Francisco Girls Chorus, 2010
Leaf Peeper Concert. String Trio, 2010
Harvard University Band, 2010
ASCAP Foundation, Sphinx Organization for the Harlem String Quartet, 2009
Brandon Fradd for Dance Brazil Company, 2009
The Chicago a cappella, 2008
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Purchase College with support from the New York State Music Fund, 2008
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2008
The Hanson Institute for American Music at the Eastman School of Music and College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University, Poetry by Margaret Atwood, 2007
Latin Fiesta with support from the Philadelphia Music Project, Pew Charitable Trust, 2007
The Eastman School of Music, 2007
Meet the Composer New Music New Donors Project for Marya Martin, flute, 2006
The Nathan Cummings Foundation for "WaterWorks" series. Aaron Davis Hall, 2006
Fromm Music Foundation for Del Sol String Quartet. 2006
Opus 21, 2006
The University of Maryland for Airi Yoshioka, violin, 2006
"WaterWorks", Aaron Davis Hall, NY with support from the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Poetry by
Rita Dove, 2006
Shaw Center for the Performing Arts, Baton Rouge, LA. Collaboration with Wole Soyinka, 2005
Albany Symphony, 2005
The Commissioning Project, 2005
The Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, 2004
The Fest der Kontinente in celebration of György Ligeti. Berlin, Germany, 2003
Meet the Composer Music/USA and the National Endowment for the Arts, 2003
Hebras de luz for electric viola, Commissioned by Martha Mooke, 2003
Mistica for piano. Commissioned by Ursula Oppens, 2003
Guggenheim Museum, on poetry by Derek Walcott, 2002
International Society for Contemporary Music, 2002
The Commissioning Project, 2002
Los Angeles Master Chorale, 2001
Meet the Composer/NEA for Donald Byrd Dance Company, 2001
American Composers Orchestra, 2001, 1988
Women's Philharmonic, 2001
National Musical Arts "Africa Spirit Ascending", 2000
Mutable Music, 2000
Library of Congress for Copland Centennial Celebration, 2000
Musical Arts, Franklin and Marshall College, 2000
American Composers Forum, 2000
Mexico/US Fund for Culture, 2000
Manchester Music Festival, 2000
Lincoln Center Tree Lighting Ceremony, 1999
NDR Sinfonie Orchester, Hamburg, 1999
Interpretations at Merkin Concert Hall, 1998
David Starobin, 1998
Miami Light Project, New World Symphony, Miami Dade Community College, Arizona State
Continuum 30th anniversary commission, 1996
Residencies & Invited Presentations:
Hammoniale Festival, Hamburg, Germany, 1995
Berlin Biennial Music Festival, Germany, 1995
Visiting lecturer, Harvard University, 1993
Visiting professor, Yale University, 1993
Voices of Change, Dallas, 1993
Carnegie Mellon University, 1993
Billings Symphony, January1993
Cornish College, Seattle, January 1993
Cleveland Institute, February 1992
Bellagio Center, Italy, 1992
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Artist Residency, Yaddo, 1991
Ravinia Festival, Aujgust 1991
New York Philharmonic Encounter Concert Series, 1990
New York Philharmonic teaching artist, January 1990
Spellman College Festival composer in residence, July-August 1990
Cabrillo Festival composer in resid!!ence, July 1990
Cal Arts Computer Center composer in residence, March 1990
Composer-to-Composer Conference, Telluride, composer in residence, 1989
American Symphony Orchestra League Conference, composer in residence, 1989
South Carolina Arts institute teaching artist, summer 1988
Composer-in-residence, Lincoln Center Institute, 1984-1988
Whitney Museum Music Director American Sampler Concert Series, 1986-1987
Alvin Ailey School resident composer, 1982-1985
Dance Theatre of Harlem music director and resident composer, 1970-1979
Royal Command Performance, London, 1976
Interfaith Committee of Remembrance. Executive Committee member
National Advisory Council, Cornish College of the Arts, 2012
Symphony Space Board Member, 2012-
Founder, Composers Now Festival, 2009-
Board Member, Cintas Foundation
Board Member, Symphony Space
Board Member, MacDowell Colony
Board Member, New Music Connoisseur
Board of Advisors, Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas
Board of Advisors, American Composers Orchestra
Board of Advisors, Encompass Music Theatre
Board of Advisors, International Alliance for Women in Music
Board of Advisors, Quintet of the Americas
Board of Advisors, League of Composers/ISCM
Board of Advisors, Symphony Space
Board of Advisors, Sphinx Organization
Board of Advisors, Orquesta Sinfonica de las Americas
Board of Advisors, altaVoz
Board Member, Chamber Music America (through June 2012)
Latin American Advisor, Sonidos Festival, Symphony Space 2010-2011
Chair, Honorary Degrees Committee, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Editorial Advisory Board, New Music Connoisseur
Symphony and Concert Committee, ASCAP
Special Classifications Committee, ASCAP
Concert Committee, Interfaith Committee of Remembrance
President, Jury, Concorso Internazionale di Composizione "2 Agosto", Bologna, Italy, 2002, 2008
Board Member, American Music Center, 2001-2007
Juror, Yaddo Composition Residencies, 2006
Juror, Simon Bolivar Prize in Composition, Caracas, Venezuela, 2006
Juror, Fullbright Scholarship, 2004, 2005
Juror, Ladislav Kubik International Prize in Composition, 2004
Profile feature, "Noticias del Mediodia", Telemundo, 2005
National Screening Committee, Institute of International Education. 2003-2005
Guest, "Bright Nights Big City, Music New York", WNYE TV 25, 2003
Profile feature, "Orgullo Hispano", Univision, 2002
U.S. Representative, U.S. Mexico Fund for Culture, 1994-1995
Board Member, New York Foundation for the Arts 1992-94
Juror, Third Munich Biennale for New Music Theatre, April-May 1992
Board Member, American Music Center, 1985-1991; 2003
Board Member Academy of American Poets
ASCAP Advisory Board since 1989
Artistic Director of Composers Forum, 1987-1989
Board Member, Meet the Composer 1983-1991
National Endowment for the Arts Composer Panelist, 1980-1982
Co-founder, Meniscus Arts Mankind, 1980-1982
New York State Council on the Arts Composer Panelist, 1981, 1986
Robert Wilson productions, 1979, 1982