Tania León, In Motion

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 11.01.11 in Reviews

The Afro-Cuban tradition has given us so much: the rhythms that underlie Latin jazz, the sounds of ritual Santeria drumming and chant, and eventually, the apparently indestructible sounds of son, as exemplified by the Buena Vista Social Club. That same tradition has also given us Tania León, the conductor and composer who has been based in New York since 1967. In Motion offers colorful works from the early and most recent parts of Leon’s career: “Haiku” is a 1973 score written for the Dance Theater of Harlem; “Inura” is a 2009 work for DanceBrazil.

Her most immediate and accessible work

“Haiku” is a setting of 17 of those aphoristic Japanese poems in English translations, for narrator and a mixed ensemble of Western instruments, Japanese koto (zither), and lots of percussion. Leon finds a convincing common ground between the abstraction of Western high modernism — still the ascendant style in classical music circles then — and the so-called “floating world” ethos of Japanese art. “Inura,” on the other hand, is a rousing, postmodern score steeped in the ritual sounds of candomble, the Afro-Brazilian spiritual and musical tradition that is a kind of cousin to Cuba’s Santeria. Though it’s comprised of 8 linked parts, “Inura” stakes out its territory in the opening two: “The Power” is a lovely weaving of several strands of melody, held together by mallet percussion; and “The Sharing” is rhythmically-charged, harmonically clear, and reminiscent of Osvaldo Golijov’s masterpiece, La Pasion segun San Marcos; “The Lust” is the work’s unabashedly lyrical core. Scored for strings, chorus and (again) lots of percussion, “Inura” is probably Le—n’s most immediate and accessible work.