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Alum Tania León Wins Music Pulitzer For "Stride"

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Alum Tania León ('71, '75) has won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her orchestral composition Stride. 

León wrote Stride on the invitation of the New York Philharmonic, which commissioned 19 women to compose works marking the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. She began work on the composition by researching suffragist Susan B. Anthony. León decided to name the piece Stride in honor of how Anthony "kept pushing and pushing and moving forward, walking with firm steps until she got the whole thing done," she wrote in the New York Philharmonic's program notes.

Premiered by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Jaap van Zweden at David Geffen Hall on February 13, 2020, the piece was described by the Pulitzer Prize Board as “a musical journey full of surprise, with powerful brass and rhythmic motifs that incorporate Black music traditions from the US and the Caribbean into a Western orchestral fabric.”

"With Stride I feel courage," León said in a Philharmonic video about the work. "That inner force that one may have inside that says 'keep going.'"

It ends "with an explosion of bells, which is the declaration that finally the women got the right to vote," Leon said in an interview with NPR.  

León's extensive catalog includes almost 40 chamber works, 10 orchestral pieces, and 6 ballets, plus several vocal compositions and pieces for piano. She served as US Artistic Ambassador of American Culture in Madrid, Spain. She was previously the New Music Advisor for the New York Philharmonic and she made her Philharmonic conducting debut in 1997, the first time the orchestra was conducted by a Black woman. In February 2020, the month Stride premiered, she was elected to the Philharmonic’s Board of Directors.

León has been commissioned by esteemed organizations such as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, the Guggenheim Museum, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2010 she founded Composers Now, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering living composers.

Born in 1943 in Havana, Cuba, León immigrated to the US in 1967 and went on to graduate in 1971 from the program in Music Education at the NYU School of Education (renamed NYU Steinhardt in 2001), earning a master’s degree from the program in Music Composition 4 years later. She has another master’s degree from the Carlos Alfredo Peyrellade Conservatory in Havana and three honorary doctorates from Colgate University, Oberlin College, and Purchase College.

Watch a rehearsal of Stride.

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