Conrad The Amazing Adventures of Tony Arnold and the Avant-Garde
The Chicago Tribune praises her "crisp and characterful performance."

Rotterdam's Dagblad enthuses over her "beautiful voice, very gutsy and fantastic technique."

Chicago's Hyde Park Herald reports that her "fresh, clear voice with subtle shadings was the perfect vehicle . . . sung with verve and beautiful lyricism."

Yet she calls herself, simply, irreverently, "screecher" and resides on the World Wide Web at

Tony Arnold '90 soprano and champion of contemporary music became in March 2001 the first vocalist ever to win First Prize at the International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition in Rotterdam, Netherlands the oldest and most important competition for contemporary music performers. Tony then tuck-ed another First Prize neatly into her purse a few months later at the Louise D. McMahon International Music Competition, in Lawton, Oklahoma.

A Baltimore native who now calls Chicago home, Tony is definitely on the map.

According to Pauline Oliveros, former Visiting Professor of Composi-tion at Oberlin and a Gaudeamus juror, "Everyone on the jury was impressed with Tony's elegant singing. She really rose to the occasion and gave more in each round. The decision for the first prize was unanimous."

Pianist Jacob Greenberg '98 accompanied Arnold for both the Gaudeamus and the McMahon. For the latter, he received a special prize for Outstanding Piano Accompanist and Tony has nothing but gratitude for what she calls his "fabulous" collaborative contributions.

"Jacob is no mere accompanist," she says. "We perform chamber music of an extraordinary kind, and the recognition we have received in the past year has everything to do with an all-out, committed collaboration between the two of us. None of this would have been possible without Jacob's skill, sensitivity, facility, and keen understanding of every note of music we play together."

Also on her list of people to thank is Professor of Conducting Robert Spano '83, whom Tony considers a mentor. With Spano as pianist, in a September 1999 guest recital in Kulas Recital Hall she presented roughly half of her Gaudeamus and McMahon programs, including Oliver Knussen's "Whitman Settings," Gyorgy Kurtag's "Requiem for the Beloved," Gyorgy Ligeti's "Three Weores Songs," and Olivier Messiaen's "Poemes pour Mi."

"Those were my first performances of the Kurtag, Ligeti, Knussen, and Messiaen," says Tony. "I learned so much from that Oberlin recital from the spontaneous exchange of musical ideas during the performance between Bob (Spano) and myself. Those
two hours did more to lift me to a higher level than any single experience of my adult musical life. It was a transcendental recital."

Tony's passion for new music is as evident in performances with Chicago's Contemporary Chamber Players, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Duo Atipica, eighth blackbird, The Furious Band, and others, as it is in the way she frames her discourse. She is more than an intellectual diva; she is an articulate advocate for the avant-garde.

When asked whether some audiences are more receptive to new music than others, she is pragmatic. "Any audience, of any nature, in any culture, in any location on this earth, is not going to be cheerfully receptive to new anything, especially if it is presented as such. That's human nature.

"We feel self-validated by participating in an accepted body of knowledge, and therefore we collectively resist 'the new.' This is not bad. It just is. I therefore suggest we remove the 'new' moniker altogether. Music is music, and appeal is contingent as much on the performance as on the quality of composition. At least two-thirds of the 19th-century canon stands as a testament to this. Audiences will accept most anything if the performance is compelling, direct, convincing, and honest.

"The bigger challenge is educating musicians in the vast and varied stylistic range that contemporary music encompasses. I find it very curious that in the cacophony of modern life, music students can still be offended by Ligeti's Atmospheres or Berio's Sinfonia. We're not doing anybody any favors by accepting at face value the history of music as told by Grout or the Norton Scores.

"Conservatory musicians today would do well to expand their focus well beyond 1750-1900 Europe, into music from several centuries before and after, and also non-western music. We all must be versatile and plural, and be able to dance the music of any era with conviction and freedom."

Tony, whose Oberlin professors included Associate Professor of Singing Richard Anderson, says the McMahon competition differed from the Gaudeamus in several ways, not the least of which was the fact that at McMahon, her program would be classified as avant-garde, while in Rotterdam it was downright conservative.

For this reason, Tony says, it was important at the McMahon for her to "draw the audience in, make them curious about what was happening," all the while staying true to the emotional content of the music.

"It is always gratifying to hear from an audience member that his or her mind was changed during the course of a concert. This happens with general audiences more often than many musicians think. The trick is to get in the emotional door right away. Then, they'll naturally open themselves to the experience, being less concerned about the printed program, with all those unfamiliar names of composers who haven't died yet."

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