Tania León
Tania León

The Pulitzer Prize in music this year went to Tania León, the 78-year-old Cuban-born composer, for her orchestral work Stride. The Pulitzer jury described the 15-minute piece as a ‘musical journey full of surprise, with powerful brass and rhythmic motifs that incorporate Black music traditions from the U.S. and the Caribbean into a Western orchestral fabric.” The two other finalists were Place by Ted Hearne and Data Lords by Maria Schneider, both recordings reviewed by SFCV.

The New York Philharmonic premiered León’s “understated, hauntingly inconclusive” work for orchestra at Lincoln Center Feb. 13, 2020. The piece was written in honor of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. León composed the work as part of the Project 19 commissioning program, which engaged 19 women composers to write music to mark the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. León’s particular inspiration was Susan B. Anthony, the women's rights activist and a prominent leader in the suffrage movement.

León’s music should be familiar to California listeners already. The San Francisco Girls Chorus commissioned her Rimas Tropicales for their “Beyond Boundaries” program some years ago, and León commissions and premieres have graced concerts by the SF Symphony, LA Phil, Del Sol Quartet, and many other regional performers.

The Pulitzer for criticism this year had a musical angle, too. The prize went to theater critic Wesley Morris, who frequently writes about music for The New York Times. The committee described his insightful essays exploring the intersection of race and pop culture as “unrelentingly relevant and deeply engaged criticism.” Read his essays here. Finalists were Mark Swed, the long-time classical-music critic for the Los Angeles Times, and music critic Craig Jenkins, who writes for New York magazine and Vulture.

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