Tania León: Clive Paget, Limelight Magazine Review

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 3:08 PM

Clive Paget, Limelight Magazine, had this to write about Tania J. Leon composition Stride commissioned by the NY Philharmonic as part of Project 19. 

Born in Havana in 1943, Tania León is a perfect example of how the immigrant experience can pay off to the advantage of the US. A noted composer, teacher and inspirational woman of colour, her latest orchestral work, Stride, was conceived not just as an expression of the spirit of her adopted America, it was a fitting tribute to the strivings of the pioneering suffragist Susan B. Anthony, whose tireless advocacy of women’s rights led ultimately to the vote (though Anthony herself didn’t live to see it). As León pointed out in a short speech from the platform, even after 1920, women of colour often found their voting rights under pressure, and it would take the struggles of the 1950s and 60s before matters improved (struggles which in some cases still go on today in areas where voter suppression of non-white minorities is still rife).

Stride is a gorgeous work, colourful, imaginative, and full of contrasts between an upbeat Latin-infused optimism – heralded by ear-tickling brass fanfares – and an undertow which is equal parts mysterious and ominous. León is never obvious, and not easy to second guess, hence when dance threatens to break out in the orchestra the syncopation is teasingly lopsided. Marimba, vibes and a battery of drums (ranging from tom-toms and bongos to the tuned West African djembe) lend vibrancy to string lines flecked here and there with a bluesy warmness. León cites an early passion for Louis Armstrong as one of her influences here, and the legendary jazzman’s presence is hinted at in fancy licks on clarinet and muted wah-wahs in the brass. The Phil were on fine form throughout, Van Zweden a persuasive guide, before a pealing of bells and a final fading drumbeat left a sense of strides still to be made.