Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tania Justina León (b. 1943), Afro-Cuban Composer of Contemporary Music

Tania Justina León is a composer, conductor and professor of contemporary concert music. León was born in Havana, Cuba on May 14, 1943. Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma is a Professor of Music at Lawrence University and has specialized in African heritage in classical music for four decades. He has kindly made his research file on Tania León available to this website: “Of African, Chinese, Cuban, French, and Spanish heritage, she began studying piano at age four and attended Carlos Alfredo Peyrellade Conservatory (B.A., 1963) and the National Conservatory (M.A., 1964) in her native Havana, with additional degree work in business administration (1965).”

“She moved to New York in 1967, continuing her studies at New York University (B.S., 1971; M.S., 1973). Originally pianist for Arthur Mitchell’s dance classes, she joined him as co-founder in 1969 of the Dance Theater of Harlem and was the first music director (conductor and composer) for that ensemble from 1970 to 1978, including the tour to South Africa in 1992.”

Dr. De Lerma writes that Tania León conducted orchestras at prestigious festivals in Spoleto, Madrid, Marseille, Rome, Leipzig and South Africa, beginning in 1971. In the U.S., she conducted the Louisville Orchestra and the New World Symphony. León conducted The Wiz on Broadway in 1992, he adds: “In that year she conducted the Broadway production of The Wiz and her second consecutive year as conductor of WNET’s telecast series, Dance in America. In that same year she was appointed conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra’s Community Concert Series, performing also as that orchestra’s pianist and assistant conductor to Lukas Foss.”

In 1985, she joined the faculty at Brooklyn College (where she was named Tow Distinguished Professor in 2000), she has held residences at the Hamburg Musikschule, Harvard, Yale, Yaddo, Bellagio, and the Fromm Residency at Rome’s American Academy. For the 1997-1998 school year, she was named the Karel Husa Visiting Professor of Composition at the Ithaca College School of Music.”

The composer's website tells of her 2005 opera,
Scourge of Hyacinths: “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.”

Tania León has been honored with the American Academy of Arts and Letters Composers Award. Her website lists numerous awards, including these recent awards:
Guggenheim Fellowship Award, 2007. Music Composition; Honorary Doctorate in Music, SUNY Purchase, 2007; Distinguished Professor, City University of New York, 2006; and Ignacio Cervantes Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement, Cuban Cultural Center, 2006. Recent recordings mentioned at the composer's website include: "Polytopia: Music for Violin and Electronics - Mari Kimura, violin. Features León's Axon for violin and interactive computer. Bridge 9236 (released September 2007).”

Tania+León" rel="tag">Tania León
Afro-Cuban+Composer" rel="tag">Afro-Cuban Composer
Afro-Cuban+Conductor" rel="tag">Afro-Cuban Conductor
contemporary+composer" rel="tag">contemporary composer
classical+music" rel="tag">classical music
Black+History" rel="tag">Black History

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