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Tony Arnold first to receive creative arts award in twenty years

With a voice that could make birds swoon and an incredible capacity to bend the unvoiced confines of music by presenting groundbreaking, contemporary work, soprano Tony Arnold is a musician in the truest sense of the word.

Arnold is the soprano for the International Contemporary Ensemble, has been a part of numerous projects such as David Lang’s Whisper Opera and collaborates with Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNow, to name only a few of her accomplishments. She has been lauded for her “broader gift for conveying the poetry and nuance behind outwardly daunting contemporary scores,” according to The Boston Globe.

Given her talent, originality and more than two dozen recorded discs so far, it only makes sense that Arnold would be the first to receive the Brandeis Creative Arts Award in two decades. Originally the award was intended to recognize writers as well as performers who have achieved significant feats, and the list of past recipients includes Tennessee Williams, George Balanchine, Leonard Bernstein, Georgia O’Keeffe and Arthur Miller. After its inception in 1956 it was transformed in 1995 and was renamed the Poses Institute of the Arts at Brandeis University, though the award itself functioned in much the same way. It was still intended to recognize distinguished artists but in more diverse disciplines in the arts.

Slightly different from past years, the award qualifies Arnold to work alongside students and faculty in some of Brandeis’ classes as part of a yearlong residency. This role is meant to showcase Brandeis’ continued dedication to the arts. On top of that, she also received a cash award of $20,000 as well as a medal.

Arnold was particularly pleased to have been the recipient of the award. “It’s an overwhelming honor, there’s an opportunity here to engage in the process in a direct way. I don’t get to do that often.” She is also excited at the prospect of directly interacting with Brandeis’ own: “The opportunity to engage and help students become the architect of their own process is rare, and I am grateful and looking forward to it.”

The Wednesday, Nov. 18 event incorporated both an award ceremony and a performance by none other than Arnold herself. After receiving the award from Interim President Lisa Lynch, Arnold performed a series of songs that she reportedly chose as reactions to exhibitions on display at the Rose. She felt particularly strongly about Lisa Yuskavage’s “The Brood”—painting of women’s bodies in various forms—and “LA/MA: ’60s Pop From Both Coasts.”

According to Yu-Hui Chang, a chair of the music department at Brandeis, Arnold’s abilities are unparalleled and deserve recognition. “As one of the most sought-after performers in the world, soprano Tony Arnold is a pioneer who expands musical boundaries like no other.” Chang continued, “Her unsurpassable vocal artistry and powerful stage presence sets a gold standard in today’s contemporary music performance. Her fearless approach and her full commitment to the integrity of each musical composition unleash the imagination of numerous composers. Tony Arnold is a highly inspirational figure and a dynamic force that propels the creation and performance of 21st century music.”

The performance was riddled with surprises. For one, she made the decision not to start her first song on center stage. Rather, her rich, lush vocals bellowed from a staircase that leads to the first floor of the Rose. To add to the unique nature of the performance, some of the songs included animal sounds as well as references from comic books. For the most part, however, the Creative Arts Award recipient wanted to underscore the importance of various “identities” and how that interacts with the “vessel,” namely, the performer. The climax of her performance occurred when she even went so far as to use the catwalk so the audience could view her from above.

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