León’s opera Scourge of Hyacinths, based on a play by Wole Soyinka with staging and design by Robert Wilson, received over 20 performances throughout Europe and Mexico. Commissioned by Hans Werner Henze and the city of Munich for the Fourth Munich Biennale, it took home the coveted BMW Prize. The aria “Oh Yemanja” (“Mother’s Prayer”) was recorded by Dawn Upshaw on her Nonesuch CD, The World So Wide.
Commissions include works for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, New World Symphony, Koussevitzky Foundation, Fest der Kontinente (Hamburg, Germany), Cincinnati Symphony, National Endowment for the Arts, NDR Sinfonie Orchester, American Composers Orchestra, The Library of Congress, Ensemble Modern, The Los Angeles Master Chorale, and The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, among others.
Her works have been performed by such orchestras as the Gewaundhausorchester, L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the China National Symphony, and the NDR Orchestra. She has collaborated with authors and directors including John Ashbury, Margaret Atwood, Rita Dove, Jamaica Kincaid, Mark Lamos, Julie Taymor, and Derek Walcott.
León has appeared as guest conductor with the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Marseille, the Orquesta Sinfonica de Asturias, L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Orquesta Filarmonica de Bogota, the Gewaundhausorchester, Chamber Orchestra of Geneve, Switzerland, the Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra, Mexico, Symphony Orchestra of Johannesburg, and the WaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, South Africa, as well as the Orquesta de la Comunidad y Coro de Madrid and the New York Philharmonic, among others.
She has lectured at Harvard University and in the prestigious Mosse Lecture series at the University of Humboldt in Berlin, and was the Andrew Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Scholar at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. León was also a visiting professor at Yale University, and a guest composer/conductor at the Hamburg Musikschule, Germany and the Beijing Central Conservatory, China.
A founding member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, León instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series, co-founded the Sonidos de las Américas festivals with the American Composers Orchestra, and is the founder of the Composers Now festival in New York City. She also served as Latin American Advisor to the American Composers Orchestra and New Music Advisor to the New York Philharmonic.
Her honors include the New York Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Symphony Space’s Access to the Arts, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, and the Fromm, Koussevitzky, and Guggenheim Fellowships. In 2012 she received both a Grammy nomination (for “Best Contemporary Classical Composition”) and a Latin Grammy nomination (for “Best Classical Contemporary Composition”), and in 2013 she was the recipient of the prestigious 2013 ASCAP Victor Herbert Award.
León has also received honorary doctorate degrees from Colgate University, Oberlin, and SUNY Purchase College, and has served as U.S. Artistic Ambassador of American Culture in Madrid, Spain. A Professor at Brooklyn College since 1985, she was named Distinguished Professor of the City University of New York in 2006. In 2010 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.