Tania León’s Ácana

Notes by TŌN bassoonist Cheryl Fries

The Composer
Cuban-born composer and conductor Tania León has had a diverse career as a musician, conductor, champion for cultural diversity, and advisor for arts and educational organizations. After arriving in the United States as a Cuban refugee in 1967, León not only made New York City her home, but left a lasting legacy on the cultural scene of the vibrant city. Beginning in 1969, León became the Artistic Director of Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem, and would go on to create the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert series, serve as Latin American music advisor to the American Composers Orchestra, and serve as New Music Advisor at the New York Philharmonic from 1993–97. A dedicated advocate for diversity, León founded and served as Artistic Director of Composers Now, an organization designed to empower composers and amplify the diversity of their work and voices.

The Music
León found inspiration for her chamber orchestra piece Ácana in Cuban Laureate Poet Nicolás Guillén’s poem dedicated to the Cuban tree. Sprawling to a height of 90 feet and 3 feet wide, the ácana tree is revered for its strength and wide-spreading roots. Guillén’s poem serves as an ode to the tree that is essential to Cuban life and society. The ácana’s role is described in this poem as being the pitchfork that helps to build homes, a staff to lead people safely home, and finally the table that will hold their coffins. This message of unity with the nature of our homelands couldn’t resonate more today, in a time where our ecosystems are continually being threatened by global warming. León undoubtedly found inspiration in this universal message, and her love for her native Cuba can be heard throughout the piece in the vibrant dance rhythms found in the percussion and the upper woodwinds. León successfully creates a multi-dimensional atmosphere using varying textures and motives. This is my first time playing Tania León’s Ácana and I’m excited to transport you to the rainforests of Cuba and immerse you in the bustling life of León’s birthplace, Havana, with this exhilarating piece.

Ácana
Nicolás Guillén

Allá dentro, en el monte,
donde la luz acaba,
allá en el monte adentro,
ácana.
 
Ay, ácana con ácana,
con ácana;
ay, ácana con ácana.
El horcón de mi casa.
 
Allá dentro, en el monte,
ácana,
bastón de mis caminos,
allá en el monte adentro . . .
 
Ay, ácana con ácana
con ácana;
ay, ácana con ácana.
 
Allá dentro, en el monte,
donde la luz acaba,
tabla de mi sarcófago,
allá en el monte adentro . . .
 
Ay, ácana con ácana,
con ácana;
ay, ácana con ácana . . .
Con ácana.
Inside there, on the mountain,
where the light ends,
there in the mountains,
acana.
 
Ay, acana with acana,
with acana;
ay, acana with acana.
The pitchfork of my house.
 
Inside there, on the mountain,
acana,
staff of my ways,
there in the mountains . . .
 
Ay, acana with acana
with acana;
ay, acana with acana.
 
Inside there, on the mountain,
where the light ends,
table of my sarcophagus,
there in the mountains . . .
 
Ay, acana with acana,
with acana;
ay, acana with acana . . .
With acana.