León, Tania (Justina)

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León, Tania (Justina)

Leoacute;n, Tania (Justina), Cuban-born American composer, conductor, pianist, and teacher; b. Havana, May 14, 1943. She studied in Havana at the Carlos Alfredo Peyrellade Cons. (B.A., 1963; M.A. in music education, 1964). She went in 1967 to the U.S., where she studied at N.Y.U. (M.S., 1973) and had conducting lessons with Halasz and at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood with Bernstein and Ozawa. In 1968 she joined the Dance Theatre of Harlem as its first music director, a position she held until 1980; also organized the Brooklyn Phil. Community Concert Series (1977). She was a guest conductor with several U.S. and European orchs.; in 1992 she conducted the Johannesburg Sym. during the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s historic trip to South Africa, when the company became the first multi-racial arts troupe to perform and teach there in modern times. Among her many awards were the Young Composer’s Prize from the National Council of the Arts, Havana (1966), the Alvin John Award from the Council for Emigrés in the Professions (1971), and the Cintas Award (1974–75). She also was an NEA Fellow (1975). In 1978 she was music director for Broadway’s smash musical The Wiz, and in 1985 served as resident composer for the Lincoln Center Inst. in N.Y. Leon also joined the composition faculty of Brooklyn Coll., and later was artistic director of the Composers’ Forum in N.Y. She has also held composer and/or conducting residencies in the U.S. (Cleveland, Seattle et al.) and in Europe (Italy, Germany et al.). Her compositions are written in an accessible style, rhythmically vibrant, with some novel piano and percussion effects. Her Kabiosile for Piano and Orch. (1988) brings together the rich and disparate elements of her own cultural heritage, combining Afro-Cuban, Hispanic, and Latin jazz elements within a classical Western concerto format. Her ballet Dougla (with Geoffrey Holder; 1974) was heard in the Soviet Union during the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s 1988 tour.


dramatic:Tones, ballet (1970; in collaboration with A. Mitchell); The Beloved, ballet (1972); Dougla, ballet (1974; in collaboration with G. Holder); Maggie Magalita, theater piece (1980; in collaboration with W. Kesselman); The Golden Windows, theater piece (1982; in collaboration with R. Wilson); A Scourge of Hyacinths, chamber opera, after Wole Soyinka (1992; Geneva, Jan. 25, 1999). orch.:Concerto criollo for Piano, 8 Timpani, and Orch. (1980); Bata (1985); Kabiosile for Piano and Orch. (N.Y, Dec. 4, 1988); Gambali (1991); Para Viola y Orquesta for Violin and Orch. (Chicago, July 29, 1994). chamber:Haiku for Flute, Bassoon, and 5 Percussion (1973); Pet’s Suite for Flute and Piano (1980); Ascend for 4 Horns, 4 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Tuba, and Percussion (1983); Permutation Seven for Flute, Clarinet, Trumpet, Violin, Cello, and Percussion (1985); A La Par for Piano and Percussion (1986); Parajota Delate for Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano (1988; also for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Piano, 1992); Indigena for Instrumental Ensemble (1991); Crossings for Brass Ensemble (1992); Aernas d’un Tiempo for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano (1992); Son Sonora for Flute and Guitar (1993); sin normas, ajenas for Large Chamber Ensemble (1994); Hechizos for Large Chamber Ensemble (1995); various works for solo instruments. vocal:De- Orishas for 2 Sopranos, Countertenor, 2 Tenors, and Bass (1982); Pueblo Mulato, 3 songs for Soprano, Oboe, Guitar, Double Bass, Percussion, and Piano, after Nicolas Guillen (1987); Heart of Ours—A Piece for Men’s Chorus, Flute, 4 Trumpets, and 2 Percussion (1988); Batéy for 2 Sopranos, Countertenor, 2 Tenors, and Bass (1989; in collaboration with M. Camilo); To and Fro for Medium Voice and Piano (1990); Journey for Soprano, Flute, and Harp (1990); “Or like a…” for Baritone, Cello, and Percussion (1994).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire