In the 1990s, the composer Tania León was named a new-music adviser to the New York Philharmonic. But the orchestra didn’t play any of her work again then.
It made up for misplaced time in February 2020, when the Philharmonic premiered Ms. León’s “Stride,” a piece each solemn and celebratory, as a part of its Project 19 initiative, for which it commissioned 19 feminine composers to honor the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which barred the states from denying ladies the proper to vote.
On Friday “Stride” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music. It is a culminating honor within the profession of a composer, now 78, who grew up in Cuba; discovered a footing writing percussive dance works in New York; created a sequence of memorable orchestral items shot by way of with intricate Latin rhythmic grooves; and have become an outspoken advocate for cultural variety in music. She has additionally been a pathbreaking conductor, and at present directs the wide-ranging pageant Composers Now.
Ms. León, who came upon in regards to the prize as she left her dentist’s workplace on Friday, mentioned she began crying on the information. “My mother and my grandmother were maids when they were 8-year-olds,” she mentioned in a telephone interview. “My family had so much hope for me and the new generation, to give us an education, and when something major has happened in my life, that’s the first thing that comes to mind.”
Inspired by the braveness of the ladies in her household, and by the suffragist Susan B. Anthony, the 15-minute “Stride” isn’t purely optimistic. Forthright brass fanfares recur all through the piece, a type of periodic annunciation, and jazzy wind solos squiggle out of the orchestral textures, however a darkish, unsettled power at all times lurks.
The composer Ellen Reid, who gained the Pulitzer in 2019 and was a part of the committee that awarded this 12 months’s prize, mentioned she had heard the Philharmonic carry out “Stride” at Lincoln Center final 12 months.
“It was one of the last performances before the pandemic,” she mentioned by telephone. “Tania has a way of weaving together so many musical traditions with such joy. She’s just such a wonderful ambassador for music, and her love is infectious.”
Explosive bells sound on the finish of the piece: “Every time I think about it,” Ms. León mentioned, “I want to hear even more — all the bells in the nation.” But a West African beat shuffles beneath — a reminder that Black ladies have been initially excluded from the proper that was granted by the 19th Amendment.
“Under all these bells of celebration,” Ms. León mentioned, “there is still a kind of struggle.”
Struggle, and motion.
“It’s very nice to be recognized,” she added. “But the biggest prize of my life is that I’ve been able to manifest a dream that started in a very small place, far from here, with people who are not here any more. That, for me, is what ‘Stride’ is about: moving forward.”
Joshua Barone contributed reporting.