She was born Tania Justina León in Havana , Cuba, of mixed French, Spanish, Chinese, African, and Cuban heritage. Having begun studying the piano at the age of four, she attended Carlos Alfredo Peyrellade Conservatory (earning a B.A. in 1963) and the National Conservatory (M.A., 1964). In 1967 she settled in New York , where she continued her studies at New York University (B.S., 1971; M.S., 1973).


In 1969 León became a founding member and the first musical director of Arthur Mitchell 's Dance Theater of Harlem , establishing its music department, music school, and orchestra.[1] Her ballet compositions for that company include Haiku (1973), Dougla (with Geoffrey Holder , 1974) and Belé (with Geoffrey Holder; 1981).

She instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series in 1978 and in 1994 co-founded the American Composers Orchestra Sonidos de las Americas Festivals as Latin American Music Advisor. From 1993 to 1997, she was New Music Advisor to Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic. She also served as Latin American Music Advisor to the American Composers Orchestra until 2001.[1] In March 2001 her orchestral work Desde... was premiered by the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall .

She has been guest conductor with the Beethovenhalle Orchestra , Bonn , the Gewandhausorchester , Leipzig , the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, Rome, the National Symphony Orchestra of South Africa , Johannesburg , the Netherlands Wind Ensemble , the Netherlands , and the New York Philharmonic , among others.

León's opera Scourge of Hyacinths, based on a radio play by Nobel Prize -winner Wole Soyinka , was commissioned in 1994 by the Munich Biennale , where it won the BMW Prize as best new opera . Staged and designed by Robert Wilson with León conducting, it has received over 22 performances in Germany , Switzerland , France and Mexico . The aria " Oh Yemanja " from Scourge was recorded by Dawn Upshaw on her Nonesuch CD The World So Wide.

León's composition Horizons, written for the NDR Symphony Orchestra of Hamburg premiered at the July 1999 Hammoniale Festival , with Peter Ruzicka conducting. In August 2000, it had its U.S. premiere at the Tanglewood Music Festival , with Stefan Asbury conducting. León conducted the work with the Orchestre Symphonique de Nancy (France) in March 2002.

Drummin', a full-length cross-cultural work for indigenous percussionists and orchestra, was commissioned and premiered in 1997 by Miami Light Project and the New World Symphony Orchestra . It opened the 1999 Hammoniale Festival in Hamburg.

León's recorded works include Batá, by the Foundation Philharmonic Orchestra , conducted by David Snell and produced by Sir George Martin ; Indígena, a collection of León’s chamber music; Carabalí (and already Batá) on the Louisville Orchestra ’s First Edition Records; Rituál, for solo piano, and her arrangement of Moises Simons ' song " El Manisero " for Chanticleer .

Tania Leon used award-winning cuban-american poet Carlos Pintado ’s poems to create Rimas Tropicales with a World premiere by in June, 2011 by one of the world’s most respected vocal ensembles: the 5 times Grammy Award-winning group the San Francisco Girls Chorus .

Awards, honors and recognition

In 1998 León was awarded the New York Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She has received honorary doctorates from Colgate University and Oberlin College and awards from 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 , the Koussevitzky Music Foundation , and Meet the Composer , among others.[1] In 1998, she held the Fromm Residency at the American Academy in Rome .[2]

León has also been a resident at Yaddo (supported by a MacArthur Foundation Award ), and at the Rockefeller Foundation ’s Bellagio Center in Italy . She has also been a Visiting Lecturer at Harvard University , Visiting Professor at Yale University and the Musikschule in Hamburg .

In 2000 she was named the Tow Distinguished Professor at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College , where she has taught since 1985. Brooklyn College is one of the senior colleges of the City University of New York (CUNY), where she is also on the faculty of the CUNY Graduate Center , in Manhattan.

León has been the subject of profiles on ABC , CBS , CNN , PBS , Univision and independent films.

In 2010, her work was performed in Cuba for the first time at the second annual Leo Brouwer Festival of Chamber Music.[3]

This biography was most recently edited by...
Unknown - 3 Sep 2012