New York Times article about Tanya León, February 7, 2020
A Composer Puts Her Life in Music, Beyond Labels
Tania León worked for the New York Philharmonic in the 1990s. But the full orchestra is only now performing her work.
She was supposed to end up in Paris.
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. “I don’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 to live.’ 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.
But right before boarding the plane she learned that she would not be permitted to return to Cuba, and upon entering the United States, she discovered that she would have to stay at least five years before she could apply for citizenship. She was trapped, a citizen of nowhere.