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O Canada! A New Music Winner From The Kitchener Waterloo Symphony

Edwin Outwater leads the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony in fresh music from the 40 and under crowd.
Kitchener Waterloo Symphony
Edwin Outwater leads the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony in fresh music from the 40 and under crowd.

Having the right music director can make a huge difference for an orchestra. Take the young conductor Edwin Outwater and his Kitchener Waterloo Symphony, a modestly sized 65-year-old ensemble situated about an hour's drive west of Toronto. You won't find any Beethoven or Brahms on their new CD From Here On Out. Instead, it's fresh music from the 40-and-under crowd, including the prolific Nico Muhly, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood and Arcade Fire member Richard Reed Parry.

The album is titled after the opening piece, which Muhly wrote for the American Ballet Theatre. The composer's had quite a good year already, with the world premieres of two operas and a major-label release of his violin concerto. This music pulses out of the gate with a solo violin engulfed in warm strings and brass. From there Muhly sets up a slow, rolling passacaglia in the bass and gradually adds layers of fluttering winds and interlaced parts for piano and marimba. It's one of the composer's most enjoyable scores. There are more interlocking parts for winds and percussion throbbing ecstatically in Muhly's atmospheric Wish You Were Here, a Boston Pops commission that pays homage to Canadian-born American composer and musicologist Colin McPhee, a devotee of Balinese gamelan music.

Outwater also supports the Canadian cause with an intriguing piece by Parry, a multi-instrumentalist from the Montreal-based band Arcade Fire. For Heart, Breath and Orchestra derives its pulse from the musicians themselves. The KWS players strap on stethoscopes to keep time with their own heartbeats. The result, largely played out in jerky pizzicato strings, is a curiously meditative type of — as Parry describes it — "musical pointillism."

The other nod to the indie rock world is Greenwood's Popcorn Superhet Receiver, a commission from the BBC Concert Orchestra that echoes the cluster chords and dizzying glissandi of 20th-century giants Krzysztof Penderecki and György Ligeti. It's an imitative, yet effective style Greenwood also chose when scoring the film There Will Be Blood.

Whether it's Muhly's exuberant minimalism, Parry's delicate textures or Greenwood's dense thicket of sound, Outwater guides dexterous performances by musicians who play the music like they own it.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.