London Philharmonic Orchestra announces Cuban-American composer Tania León as next Composer-in-Residence
Recent recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor and a Pulitzer Prize, León will hold the post for two seasons, beginning in September 2023
The Cuban-American composer Tania León has been announced as the London Philharmonic Orchestra's next Composer-in-Residence. The appointment will span two seasons, beginning in September 2023.
León's work has recently received a lot of acclaim in the US. In December 2022 she received a Kennedy Center Honor, awarded annually to figures in the performing arts for their contributions to American culture, which saw her recognised alongside the likes of soul singer Gladys Knight, Irish rock band U2 and actor George Clooney. In addition, León won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her work Stride, inspired by suffragist Susan B. Anthony. The LPO, however, is amongst the first to profile León in the UK in a major way.
León arrived in the US from Cuba in 1967, speaking barely any English, as an accomplished pianist who had won three major competitions and earned degrees from the Carlos Alfredo Peyrellade Conservatory in piano and theory/solfège. She began studies at the New York College of Music just months later. Her big break came in 1968 when a pianist friend was unwell and she agreed to fill in for her at a ballet class in Harlem. There she impressed ballet dancer and choreographer Arthur Mitchell – the first soloist of colour with the New York City Ballet – and soon became resident composer and music director of Mitchell’s newly formed Dance Theatre of Harlem.
León instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series in 1978. From 1993 to 1997, she was New Music Advisor to Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic. Between 1994 and 2001, she was Latin American music advisor for the American Composers Orchestra. In this role she co-founded the Sonidos de las Américas, which aimed to highlight the contribution of Latin America to America’s culture, as well as encouraging orchestras to broaden their repertoire. In 2010 she became the founder and artistic director of Composers Now, an organisation with the mission of empowering living composers and celebrating their diverse voices.
In addition to performances of various other works, her LPO residency will see the UK premiere of her Pulitzer-Prize-winning work, Stride, on Friday 31 March. León will also be involved in the Orchestra’s education and community work, including mentoring the LPO Young Composers – a scheme that aims to support the progression of talented early-career orchestral composers, who join the Orchestra for a season and each create a new eight-minute work for chamber orchestra.
Commenting on her new appointment, León said: 'I am delighted to have been appointed the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s next Composer-in-Residence. Over the two years, I will be able to really get to know the Orchestra and the personalities of each player; to write specifically for this group of talented musicians will be a joy. I am also really looking forward to mentoring the LPO Young Composers and I would strongly encourage anyone thinking about applying to go for it. It is so important that mentoring is available to young artists and I’m so glad I can play a small part in developing the next generation.'
More details of León’s 2023/24 LPO programmes will be announced in the spring with the Orchestra’s season announcement. Tickets for the concert featuring Stride on Friday 31 March are available here.
Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.