Artistic Director Spotlight: Edwin Outwater, KW Symphony

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony has been a source of cultural pride for the region for almost 70 years. We caught up with Music Director Edwin Outwater to discover the secret to the symphony’s longevity.
Q: Tell me about your journey to the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.
A: I have been here as the Music Director for eight years. The KW Symphony is a prestigious orchestra that is known all over North America. There was a two year international search for a conductor and I was invited as a guest conductor. I was invited to be a guest conductor later again  and then they hired me as the Music Director. Initially, I had no idea where Kitchener-Waterloo was or what was going on here.  The orchestra was my first introduction to the region and I loved it.
Q: How has the experience been?
A: I was happy that we were all on the same page. I was hired to make great music, but also to innovate and to make the orchestra evolve with the times. With the Board and the musicians supporting what I wanted to do, they let me take chances and create new things. It’s been great that everyone was on our side to make the orchestra special.
Q: How do you go about curating and choosing what to showcase in the seasons?
A: I want every concert to be an experience and to have a sense of discovery and wonder. Sometimes it can be how you play an often-played work, or by introducing new works, or sometimes it’s in mixing the new and the old. As the years have gone on, I’ve tried to bring the audience deeper in to the music as classical music is a complex, deep art. Getting the audience into that sense of discovery is my big thing. How I do that is very hard to explain – it takes a lot of instinct and understanding what the orchestra and the audience needs, and the combination that creates that effect. It’s like putting paint on canvas – it can be intellectual, but it’s also instinct.
Q: What challenges do you face as a conductor?
A: The challenges are mainly that these great art pieces can always be better as there’s no limit to how well they can be played. So, the onus is on us to play it at a very high level and inspiring 50-100 people to do that.
Q: What’s your vision for the KW Symphony?
A: Several things – the first part of my time here was to take away the cobwebs. The symphony was seen as exclusive and old and stuffy, and now it’s seen as more accessible and forward thinking than it once was.
The next phase is to reinvigorate the concert experience through giving more background to what we play. We’re working with media to give more explanations of the music without giving a lecture. We’re beaming program notes to phones and giving people an option to dig deeper into the music.
The next part is to get to people who cannot come to us. There are some people who can’t come to The Centre: those who are sick, or who can’t afford it or think they can’t afford it. So, we’re getting musicians out in the community. That means a different kind of work and a different kind of mission, so we’re really focused on that.
Q: What’s in store for next season?
A: We’re really excited to be bringing opera back to the stage at The Centre. It used to be a big tradition before. We’re doing a concert version of Die Feldermaus by Strauss. We’re playing all five Beethoven Piano Concertos in two days with Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear. That’s all very exciting. CLICK HERE TO VIEW 15-16 SEASON PROGRAM