Tania León on Honored By The Kennedy Center
Tania León on Honored By The Kennedy Center
Tania Leon's passion for music has been center stage since her childhood in Cuba. Throughout her career, she composed music and conducted orchestras on the world's biggest stages. Now, at 79, she is being recognized as one of this year's Kennedy Center honorees. CBS News lead national correspondent David Begnaud sat down with the pianist to learn more about her musical journey that led to the distinct honor.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Tania León is highly regarded as a composer, conductor, educator, and advisor to arts organizations. Her orchestral work Stride, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Recent premieres include works for Los Angeles Philharmonic, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, NDR Symphony Orchestra, Grossman Ensemble, International Contemporary Ensemble, and Jennifer Koh’s project, Alone Together. Appearances as guest conductor include Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille, Gewandhausorchester, Orquesta Sinfónica de Guanajuato, and Orquesta Sinfónica de Cuba, among others. Upcoming commissions feature works for the NewMusic USA Amplifying Voices Program, the League of American Orchestras, The Musical Fund Society in Philadelphia to celebrate their 200th anniversary, and Claire Chase, flute, and The Crossing Choir with text by Rita Dove.

A founding member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, León instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series, co-founded the American Composers Orchestra’s Sonidos de las Américas Festivals, was New Music Advisor to the New York Philharmonic, and is the founder/Artistic Director of Composers Now, a presenting, commissioning and advocacy organization for living composers.

Honors include the New York Governor’s Lifetime Achievement, inductions into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and fellowship awards from ASCAP Victor Herbert Award and The Koussevitzky Music and Guggenheim Foundations, among others. She also received a proclamation for Composers Now by New York City Mayor, and the MadWoman Festival Award in Music (Spain). León has received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Colgate University, Oberlin, SUNY Purchase College, and The Curtis Institute of Music, and served as U.S. Artistic Ambassador of American Culture in Madrid, Spain. A CUNY Professor Emerita, she was awarded a 2018 United States Artists Fellowship, and Chamber Music America’s 2022 National Service Award.

Recent Kennedy Center history: Tania León was commissioned by the Kennedy Center to compose incidental music for Wendy Kesselman’s play Maggie Magalita (1980), for which she conducted the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra (KCOHO) in those performances. The premiere of her composition, At the Fountain of Mpindelela, was held at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater as part of a 2000 celebration honoring Nelson Mandela, presented by National Musical Arts. Additionally, León has conducted the KCOHO in various performances in the 1990s, such as Dance Theatre of Harlem in March 1992 and 1993 and most recently in 2019 as part of the Center’s Ballet Across America series (Kennedy Center Opera House). Upcoming, the National Symphony Orchestra has commissioned an orchestral work with her during its 2023–2024 season. 

Author, educator, musician, dancer and all around creative type. Founder of "The Happy Now" website and the online jewelry store "Silver and Sage".

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