Cuban American composer and conductor Tania León has been awarded the $100,000 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University.
Established in 2003, the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition honors classical music composers of outstanding achievement who have significantly influenced the field of composition.
Previous winners of the biennial award include John Adams (2004), Oliver Knussen (2006), Kaija Saariaho (2008), John Luther Adams (2010), Aaron Jay Kernis (2012) Esa-Pekka Salonen (2014), Steve Reich (2016), Jennifer Higdon (2018), and William Bolcom (2021).
“I am delighted and deeply honored to receive the Nemmers Prize in Music. I look forward to working with, and getting to know, the excellent students, faculty, and ensembles of the Northwestern Bienen School of Music over the next two years,” said León.
León’s first on-campus residency, planned for winter quarter 2024, will feature performances of her music by Bienen School students as well as other activities, such as coaching sessions with Bienen ensembles and lessons and seminars with composition students. León’s second Bienen School residency will take place during the 2024-2025 academic year.
“Tania León and I first met at the 1990 National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, where she conducted and I performed as pianist,” said Toni-Marie Montgomery, dean of the Bienen School of Music. “I have long been an admirer of Ms. León’s compositions as well as her impressive and varied career. Bienen School students and faculty will benefit immensely from her inspiring presence on campus over the next two years.
“Awarding Tania León the 2023 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize is a personal highlight of my 20 years at Northwestern,” said Montgomery.
Composer, conductor, educator and advisor
Tania León (b. Havana, Cuba) 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. In 2022, she was named a recipient of the 45th Annual Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievements. Most recently, the London Philharmonic Orchestra announced Tania León as its next Composer-in-Residence — a post she will hold for two seasons, beginning in September 2023.
Recent premieres include works for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Grossman Ensemble, International Contemporary Ensemble, Ensemble Modern, Jennifer Koh’s project “Alone Together,” and The Curtis Institute. Appearances as guest conductor include Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille, Gewandhausorchester, Orquesta Sinfónica de Guanajuato, and Orquesta Sinfónica de Cuba, among others. Upcoming commissions feature a work for the League of American Orchestras and a work for Claire Chase, flute, and The Crossing with text by Rita Dove.
A founding member and first music director 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 from the New York City Mayor for Composers Now 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, Chamber Music America’s 2022 National Service Award, and Harvard University’s 2022 Luise Vosgerchian Teaching Award.
The Nemmers Prizes
The Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition recognizes composers who show the highest level of achievement in a substantial and continuing body of work. Nominations are solicited worldwide and the winner is determined by a committee comprising individuals of widely recognized stature in the music community.
In addition to the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, Northwestern University awards the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics, the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics, the Mechthild Esser Nemmers Prize in Medical Science and the Nemmers Prize in Earth Sciences. All five Nemmers prizes are made possible through bequests from the late Erwin Esser Nemmers, a former member of the Northwestern faculty, and his brother, the late Frederic E. Nemmers.
Katelyn Balling is the senior communications coordinator at the Bienen School of Music.