A Composer Puts Her Life in Music, Beyond Labels

Monday, February 10, 2020 5:28 AM

By William Robin | The New York Times

[Published February 7, 2020 in the NYT]

She was supposed to end up inParis.

When the composer Tania León was 9, her piano teacher, traveling in France, sent a postcard back to Cuba with a picture of the Eiffel Tower. “Idon’t know what happened to me when I saw the card,” Ms. León, now 76, said recently. “I went to my family, and I said, ‘This is where I’m going tolive.’ And I became obsessed.”

A few years earlier, her intrepid grandmother had marched her to the local music conservatory in Havana and demanded that she be enrolled. They didn’t usually take students so young, but Ms. León already showed promise: Even at 4, she would press against the radio at home, dancing to salsa and singing along, with perfect pitch, to the classical station.

Following rigorous, European-style conservatory training, and inspired by her teacher’s postcard, the young pianist set her sights on France, intent on becoming a touring virtuoso and helping lift her family out of poverty. After years of waiting, she landed a free flight to the United States through a resettlement program. In 1967, at 24, Ms. León left for Miami, intending to travel on to Europe.

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