Tania León is one of the most vital personalities on today's music scene. In demand as both a composer and a conductor, she has also been recognized for her significant accomplishments as an educator and as an advisor to arts organizations. León's latest orchestral work, Horizons, was written for the NDR Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg and was premiered there in July 1999, with Peter Ruzicka conducting. The Frankfurter Rundschau wrote: "Starting with a few short motifs that resembled bird calls, the piece built, swiftly to an intense shimmering chorus of many voices... The brief, highly compact composition makes one long to hear it again several times over." Her other recent commissions include Drummin', a major multimedia work premiered at the Lincoln Theater in Miami and subsequently performed in Hamburg.
In 1999, her opera Scourge of Hyacinths was given 17 performances to great acclaim by the Grand Théâtre de Genève in Switzerland, the Opéra de Nancy et de Lorraine in France and the St. Pölten Festspielhaus in Austria. Presented under the direction of Robert Wilson and conducted by the composer, the work is based on a radio play by Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka. The Munich Biennale commissioned the opera in 1994, where it won the BMW Prize as best new work of opera theatre in the festival. The aria Oh Yemanja (Mother's Prayer) from Scourge was recently released by Nonesuch on Dawn Upshaw's CD "The World So Wide."
A brief discography of León's music includes Indígena, a CD of León's chamber music, released on CRI; the orchestral works Batá and Carabalí on the Louisville Orchestra's First Edition Records; Rituál, a solo piano work, on an Albany Records; an arrangement of the Cuban song El Manisero for Chanticleer on Teldec; and Journey for the Jubal Trio, also on CRI. Her music is also featured on the Newport Classic, Leonarda, Mode and Opus One labels. A 1999 recipient of an Honorary Doctorate degree from Colgate University, León has received awards for her compositions from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund, NYSCA, ASCAP, and Meet the Composer, among others. In 1998 she held the Fromm Residency at the American Academy in Rome; she has also been to Yaddo, supported by a MacArthur Foundation Award, and to the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center in Italy.
Born in Havana, Cuba, León came to the U.S. in 1967. At the invitation of Arthur Mitchell, she became a founding member and the first musical director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969, and founded the Dance Theatre's music department, music school, and orchestra. She instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series in 1978. Starting in 1993 she held a four-year position as New Music Advisor to Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic. Currently, she serves as Latin American Music Advisor to the American Composers Orchestra, where she co-founded the award-winning Sonidos de las Americas festival. León has held masterclasses at the Hamburg Musikschule in Germany, and has been Visiting Lecturer at Harvard University and Visiting Professor of Composition at Yale University, and most recently, Composer-in-Residence at The College of William and Mary, in Spring 1999. León is Professor of Music at Brooklyn College, where she has taught since 1985.