Tania León: What it Means to be an American Composer

7. Conducting

TANIA LEÓN: Conducting has been as surprising to me as composing. I say that because I never thought that I would develop a career in these two fields. I totally wanted to be a pianist. Working at Dance Theater of Harlem, one day, Arthur said, “why don’t you write a piece, I’ll do the choreography” and that was the beginning of this whole thing, you see, so conducting was the same thing. We went to the Spoleto Festival and the Juilliard Orchestra was there, and he said “Why don’t you conduct?” So that’s the whole thing, you know. So, and, it had been really a wonderful detour and a wonderful input, because conducting also teaches you a lot about composition. And being a composer/conductor has been to me, I mean, a healing grace.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now is there a preference you have for the type of music you conduct? Do you prefer conducting new music, older music?

TANIA LEÓN: Nope. I mean, because there is older music which is new to me, you know. And there’s some young music that might be old to me, in a way.

FRANK J. OTERI: Right.

“Conducting teaches you a lot about composition.”
RealPlayer  [63 seconds]
RealAudio sound clip
Sound sample – TANIA LEÓN: from Indígena
Performed by Continuum, conducted by Tania León
(from the CD Tania León: Indígena, CRI 662)

Order from Amazon.com

TANIA LEÓN: So therefore, for me, the possibility of conducting is the most remarkable situation that one can be placed under. And it’s specifically not only when you work with colleagues whom you know, but when you go elsewhere and you sometimes work with musicians with whom you can’t really communicate because you don’t have the same language.

FRANK J. OTERI: Right. If you’re off conducting an orchestra in eastern Europe…

TANIA LEÓN: Exactly, exactly. You know, I mean, I cannot relate but with what little I know, German, and they don’t speak English, and they don’t speak Spanish.

FRANK J. OTERI: Right.

TANIA LEÓN: So therefore we have to actually bring up our musicianship. And it is incredible what happens with those performances, because then there is actually another level by which we communicate, musician to musician, and actually when we reach it, it’s just spectacular.