Thursday, March 22, 2012

FANFARE: 'There is an allure in the music of Tania León that immediately grips the listener'

[Tania León: Singin' Sepia BRIDGE 9231; Tania León: In Motion ALBANY 1284]

Sergio Mims has alerted AfriClassical to this interview:

FANFARE Magazine
“A Master of Synthesis: An Interview with Tania León
Written by David DeBoor Canfield
Saturday, 04 February 2012
“Tania León was born in Cuba, her ancestry spanning four continents. Coming to the U.S. in 1967 and engaging in graduate studies, she ended up settling in New York. Her many honors and performances include being the subject of profiles on most North American television networks, as well as independent films. León’s opera, The Scourge of Hyacinths, based on a play by Wole Soyinka with staging and design by Robert Wilson, received more than 20 performances throughout Europe and Mexico.

“Commissioned by Hans Werner Henze for the 1994 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.

“León has received the New York Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as prestigious awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Koussevitzky Award, and numerous others. 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. She was involved in the premiere of a new work when I caught up with her by phone in early December 2011, but managed to find a few moments to answer my questions.

“Q: What was the musical scene like in Cuba when you were growing up and studying music there? Did Cuba have anything comparable to El Sistema in Venezuela?

“A: As to your question about anything corresponding to El Sistema in Cuba, well you would be surprised at how many variations of that famous music education program exist throughout Latin America! From what I know about Cuba, the importance given to music education is quite apparent by the number of orchestras that are in each one of the provinces. These orchestras are composed of the professors at the conservatory plus their students, and they often play music by the local composers. It’s all integrated, and the musical culture in Cuba is deep and diverse. Cuban musicians are all trained in the conservatory; they are trained in European music, and in sight-singing, solfège, conducting, and such things.

“I was raised in a culture of inclusivity, with many influences from the relatives who converged in my household. I actually began studying music when I was four years old—I could read notes before I could read words. My first recital was when I was five. Such an early training is a real part of the Cuban culture, but in my case, my grandmother recognized my interest in music, and helped find teachers for me at the conservatory. On the weekends, I would hang around with other students, play salsa music, improvise, and play just about any instrument. However, when we went into the conservatory we were playing our Chopin! I also liked to dance when I was young, and would dance to just about any music that I heard being played. That was just a natural part of my development.

“Q: Is your music played today in Cuba, or do the powers that be resent your having left for the United States?

“A: Actually, last year was the first time that I traveled to Cuba to hear a concert of my works performed. At the invitation of composer-conductor Leo Brouwer, I was invited to be a featured composer of the festival that bears his name.”

“Q: Well, you have done some amazing things, both in and outside of your composition!

A: Thank you! I feel privileged to have been given the opportunities to grow as a musician and cultivate my compositional voice. I could never have imagined that the path of my childhood dream—traveling to Paris to study for a career as a concert pianist—would change course to place my destination in New York, ultimately as a composer and conductor.

“LEÓN Haiku. 1 Inura 2 1,2 Tania León (cond); 1 Rajoe Darby (narr); 1 Dance Theatre of Harlem Ens; 2 Son Sonora Voices; 2 Son Sonora Ens; 2 DanceBrazil Perc • ALBANY 1284 (67:36 Text and Translation)

“LEÓN Bailarin. 1 Singin’ Sepia. 2 Axon. 3 Arenas d’un Tiempo. 4 Satiné. 5 Horizons 6 1 David Starobin (gtr); 2 Tony Arnold (sop); 2 David Gresham (cl); 2 Renée Jolles (vn); 2 Joel Sachs, Cheryl Seltzer (pn); 3 Mari Kimura (vn); 4 Speculum Musicae; 5 Quattro Mani; 6 Peter Ruzicka (cond); 6 NDR SO • BRIDGE 9231 (56:02 Text and Translation)

“Warning! There is an allure in the music of Tania León that immediately grips the listener, and demands his undivided attention, drawing him into her distinctive world. This is not background music that can be listened to with one ear while the other is focused on something else. Although one might perceive influences from Harry Partch, John Cage, Peter Sculthorpe, Hans Werner Henze, and any number of the other innovative composers of our time, the artistic voice of León is utterly distinctive, and once one has listened to her music for any length of time, it will not be mistaken as the work of any other composer. Some of her works and their polyrhythmic characteristics are driven by the concept of the clave, a distinctive rhythmic pattern that 'functions as a kind of metronomic device that is superimposed over the binary and ternary independent lines,' as the composer has written.

These two CDs seem to me to give a good overview of this composer’s work, containing as they do two substantial works of more than a half-hour’s duration each, and six shorter works, ranging from four to 13 minutes.” 

[The website of the Afro-Cuban composer and conductor Tania León (b.1943) is; she is also profiled at]

No comments: