Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tania León, Afro-Cuban Composer and Conductor Born May 14, 1943

Tania Justina León is a composer, conductor and professor of contemporary concert music. She was born in Havana, Cuba on May 14, 1943. 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 “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). 

León settled in New York in 1967. At New York University she earned a B.S. Degree in 1971 and an M.S. Degree in 1973, Prof. De Lerma reports. He adds that she was a pianist for Arthur Mitchell's dance classes before becoming a co-founder of the Dance Theater of Harlem. K. Robert Schwarz has written the liner notes for her CD Indigena, CRI 662 (1994): “León's first ballet for Mitchell, Tones (1973) was followed by further collaborations, such as Dougla (with Geoffrey Holder, 1974) and Spiritual Suite (with Marian Anderson, 1976).” Prof. De Lerma chronicles a number of Tania León's performances as an orchestra conductor in the U.S., Europe and South Africa. In 1992, he adds, she conducted The Wiz on Broadway.

Tania León has served as advisor, assistant or director to a wide variety of music organizations, Prof. De Lerma says: “She was musical assistant to Dennis Russell Davies for the production at the Metropolitan Opera of The voyage by Philip Glass (1995-1996). She has served as Artistic Director of the Composers Forum and is on the American Music Center’s board of directors. During his final years as music director of the New York Philharmonic, Kurt Masur appointed her as his musical advisor (1993-1997), serving also as the Revson Composer Fellow. She was Latin American Musical Advisor to the American Composers Orchestra until 2001, and founder of its festivals, Sonidos de las Américas (1994). Additionally she has been advisor to New York’s Meet the Composer Residencies Program.”

“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 Web site 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's Web site announces her selection on February 27, 2006 as a Distinguished Professor of the City University of New York. The award is in recognition of both her past achievements and her future potential as a Professor at CUNY. Her works appear on many recordings.  [Full Biography]

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