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Insights with Evan Mitchell

Notes from Edwin Outwater, KWS Music Director

Edwin writes about the details that go into the concerts of the Signature Series.


Lehninger Conducts Brahms

For this concert, we welcome Marcelo Lehninger to join us. Below, he shares some of his thoughts about this special concert.

- Edwin Outwater

It is my great pleasure to conduct your orchestra for the first time.  The program this week features the music of one of my favorite composers: Johannes Brahms.

If I could describe this program with only one word, it would be "destiny."

It took Brahms over twenty years to write his first symphony, in part because he was so concerned about being a good symphonist after Beethoven. “I shall never write a symphony! You can’t have any idea what it’s like always to hear such a giant marching behind you!” Brahms, nearing 40 and already one of Germany’s most famous composers, wrote in a letter to a friend, referring to Beethoven.

Indeed, the First Symphony starts like a march, with strong timpani ostinato strokes. What a dramatic way to start a symphony! You can hear the struggle of an extremely self-critical person, who felt insecure and intense pressure to prove himself as good of a symphonic composer as Beethoven.

The First Symphony is a life journey; with moments of drama, as well as lyricism and tenderness, ending in triumph. Its destiny in music history was established: it is one of the all time favorite symphonies of audience members and musicians. 

Brahms started working on what would become one of his major choral works in the summer of 1868. After spending time contemplating the sea and reading poems by Friedrich Hölderlin, Brahms composed Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny). Sung in German, here the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony will join forces with the Grand Philharmonic Choir to perform this poetic and romantic work.

To open the concert, we are going to play the piece On the Double by the young Canadian composer Jordan Pal. It is fascinating to see how the music of a past great master, like Brahms, continues to influence today’s music.

I am really looking forward to conducting this beautiful program for you.


Marcelo Lehninger


Concerto Celebration

April 2016:The concerts this week are about what lies under the surface of an orchestra. It’s about who we are and what we do, and it’s the final major event of our 70th Anniversary Season. The first half features four of our musicians in solo roles, and three of them are making their debuts as soloists on the Signature Series. Our wonderful new principal bassoon Ian Hopkin plays a virtuoso showpiece by Carl Maria Von Weber, and our new concertmaster Bénédicte Lauzière plays Ravel’s wildly imaginative and colorful Tzigane. Principal violin Natasha Sharko premieres a brand new piece by Canadian composer Owen Pallett. Owen is well known in the indie music scene, but is also rapidly making a name for himself in the classical world with beautiful, evocative music, and a truly distinctive compositional voice. I’ve been trying to get Owen to write something for us for at least eight years, and can’t believe it finally happened. Finally, our beloved Jim Mason joins us for a performance of the Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in C minor.  Jim is an undisputed musical leader in the orchestra and a poetic artist. I’m thrilled to be able to work wth him again this year as soloist. Having these four musicians play on one concert is meant to be a testament to the extraordinary talent in our ranks. There are many more musicians just like them in the KWS.

The second half of the program features guests from the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Youth Orchestra, the most advanced of the six ensembles that we offer to young musicians in the region. There is no better way to learn than to play side-by-side with professional musicians. The students can instinctively feel the way seasoned musicians move and breathe. It’s an unforgettable experience, and it also celebrates the close relationship between our Youth Orchestra Program and the KWS.

Finally the KWS plays Bartók’s masterpiece Concerto for Orchestra. It is exactly what it advertises: a tour de force for the individual sections but also for the orchestra as a whole. By turns dramatic, comic, tragic, and exhilarating, this piece really has it all, and the musicians and I are thrilled to present it to our audiences for the first time in many, many, years. I hope you can join us the weekend. When you leave this weekend’s concerts, you will have no doubt that we have a truly remarkable orchestra in our community.

- Edwin Outwater


February 2016: The Russian imagination in music is almost always related to storytelling. The classical tradition in Russia developed much later than in European countries to the West. Russian music is unique in how it absorbed Western traditions into its own art, literature and music. Rather than aesthetic structures like sonata form, Russian music is often built around a narrative or an unfolding set of emotions or experiences. What Russian music has in common with composers like Beethoven or Brahms is that it explores the vast and subtle emotions that are hard to describe in words, but easy to sense in an orchestral setting. 

Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov use established narratives to tell their musical story. Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest is a very early work, written around the same time is his famous version of Romeo and Juliet. It evokes the magic of Shakespeare’s Island, the trudging steps of Caliban, and the whirling magic of Prospero. It is music of pure and vivid  atmosphere. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade is one of the most famous musical stories ever written for orchestra. In fact, it even has its own narrator, the solo violin. This is one of the few pieces I’ve revisited here in the ten years that I have been Music Director. The main reason I’m doing this is that we have a magical new storyteller in the form our concertmaster, Bénédicte Lauzière. I’m so excited to hear what will do with the world’s most famous orchestral violin solo. 

Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 has no set narrative, but it is full of wild, exuberant and unfettered emotion. It is one of my favourite concertos written for any instrument. There’s not much to say about it, except that it will carry you away with his breathless virtuosity for the piano, the distinctive sounds from the orchestra, its ingratiating melodies, and its subversive humour. It is also a magic carpet ride.

- Edwin Outwater


Die Fledermaus

This week is the realization of a dream to bring opera back to the stage of the Centre in the Square. I adore conducting operas. The teamwork, the combination of words and music, text and subtext, and most of all, the glory of the human voice are things that draw me into this world. Die Fledermaus is the perfect work to “bring opera back” to the KWS because it’s one of the most beautiful and perfect operas ever written. Its succession of beautiful and memorable tunes is like listening to a greatest-hits record; the way the music provides subtext and emotions to the deceptions and flirtations happening in the plot is second to none; the colors of the orchestra provide a glow to the voices that has been imitated by countless composers after Strauss. 

During this cold winter week, there is also another reason to perform Die Fledermaus, and that has to do with the subject matter. Many operas tackle huge and weighty subjects, such as love and death. Die Fledermaus unashamedly is about pleasure and delight. It’s about those smiles, jokes, flirtations, dances, and parties that make us happy day to day, and here they’re elevated to art. So we hope you can join us this week, and indulge.

- Edwin Outwater


Bruckner and Bruch

November 2015: Every season I plan one concert for the orchestra that is an amazing exploration of great music rarely played be the KWS. These are the concerts the musicians wait the entire year to play, the music they practice for months in preparation. When we take the stage, we will be thrilled to fill the Centre in the Square with and spectacular we love, music never heard live by most of our audience. 

This year, we present Anton Bruckner’s monumental Fourth Symphony. Written in the era of Brahms and Wagner, this Symphony is subtitled “The Romantic.” It evokes, according to Bruckner himself, ancient castles, forest scenes, and noble knights riding off to battle. It is full of gorgeous melodies, epic climaxes, and moments of total awe and absolute mystery. It is one of the most beautiful and original symphonies ever written. 

The reason it is rarely performed here, is that it calls for a large orchestra, so we have taken special efforts to expand our orchestra to the forces necessary to create Bruckner’s “Cathedrals of Sound.” We know this symphony will sound especially spectacular in our own Cathedral of Sound, the Centre in the Square, a concert hall with the best acoustics in all of Canada. This is a concert you really shouldn’t miss, and a great way to introduce friends to the unmatchable power and beauty of orchestral sound and expression. We hope you can join us.

- Edwin Outwater


Beethoven Marathon

September 2015: We open our 70th Anniversary Season with a musical marathon. This first weekend of concerts is really a mini-festival, exploring all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos, played by the great Canadian pianist (and my old friend) Stewart Goodyear. Stewart is a pianist of astonishing technical ability and deep focus, and in recent years he has turned his attention to Beethoven, playing marathon performances of all his piano sonatas. I asked him to continue this “deep immersion” experience with the concertos and our orchestra, and he quickly agreed. You’ll hear completely different music on all three programs, and I hope you will join us for the complete journey!

The first two piano concertos are clear descendants of Mozart and Haydn, full of wit and charm, but there are hints of what is to come. The minimal, ultra-simple theme that opens the first piano concerto is a hint of how Beethoven will use motivic “building blocks” in the future. The second movement is meditative and contemplative, and hints at Beethoven’s increasing desire to share his inner life in music. By the 3rd concerto, Beethoven’s ambitions increase, and from here on out these pieces feel completely new and original: the expansive minor-key humor of the 3rd, the absolute sublime and intimate quality of the 4th, and the epic scope of the 5th, the “Emperor” concerto. The orchestra and I have performed all of these works many times, but never at the same time! We’re excited, and know we’re going to learn a lot along the way.

Along with the concertos, we play the famous Coriolan and King Stephen overtures. They couldn’t be more different. Coriolan has a tremendous amount in common with the first movement of the 5th Symphony, with it’s unrelenting focus, and sense of battle. The King Stephen Overture is full of humor and allusions to folk music. The humor streak continues this weekend with Beethoven’s compact and witty 8th Symphony. This is a work of unbridled creativity, and somehow Beethoven packs an amazing amount of material into this relatively brief work. It is full of humor, but  the musical jokes are rough, almost manic, at times. There’s an undercurrent of violent energy in this work that is both peculiar and mysterious. 

To open the festival, we are joined by the Grand Philharmonic Choir for Calm Seas and Prosperous Voyage, as we set sail on our anniversary season. It’s only fitting that they sing these first notes with us, for it was from this choir that the KW Symphony emerged as an independent entity seventy years ago.

- Edwin Outwater



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