Tania León, (b. May 14, 1943, 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 Los Angeles Philharmonic, the International Contemporary Ensemble, Ursula Oppens and the Cassatt Quartet, Nestor Torres, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, New World Symphony, Koussevitzky Foundation, Fest der Kontinente (Hamburg, Germany), Cincinnati Symphony, National Endowment for the Arts, 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, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, and International Contemporary Ensemble, among others. Recent commissions include: the score for the opera, The Little Rock Nine, with a libretto by Thulani Davis, and historical research by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., commissioned by the University of Central Arkansas's College of Fine Arts and Communication.
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 served as Latin American Advisor to the American Composers Orchestra and New Music Advisor to the New York Philharmonic. She is the founder and artistic director of Composers Now Festival and the Composers Now organization, a nonprofit in New York City founded in 2010 and dedicated to empowering all living composers, while celebrating the diversity of their voices and honoring the significance of their contributions to the cultural fabric of society. In 2017, a proclamation was presented to Tania Leon and Composers Now on behalf of Mayor Bill de Blasio in recognition of their contributions on behalf of living composers. For more information please visit: Composersnow.org.
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 and at the Graduate Center of CUNY, 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, and in 2017 she received the Mad Women Festival Award in Music, in Madrid, Spain.
Her honors include the New York Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award, Symphony Space's Access to the Arts, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, and the Fromm, Koussevitzky, and Guggenheim Fellowships. In 2012 she received both a Grammy nomination (for "Best Contemporary Classical Composition") and a Latin Grammy nomination (for "Best Classical Contemporary Composition") and in 2013 she was the recipient of the prestigious 2013 ASCAP Victor Herbert Award. Most recently she was awarded a 2018 United States Artists Fellowship