Music: Quantum fiddling


I’ve made it clear before that I’m a big fan of the work Edwin Outwater is doing as music director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. When I met the young Californian two and a half years ago I asked whether he had any projects cooking with the region’s other outstanding eccentrics, whether at RIM or Perimeter Institute. He didn’t then, but he wasted little time. Last month Outwater and Raymond Laflamme, the director of the Institute for Quantum Computing (which is run jointly by Perimeter and the UPDATE: actually not run by anyone except the University of Waterloo), put on an elaborate and meticulously prepared concert to explain ideas in quantum physics using music.

The concert started with Mozart (representing classic Newtonian physics) and moved on quickly to Charles Ives, Xenakis and other wild stuff. Laflamme, one of the great communicators in Canadian science, was key to the concert’s success. Here are excerpts from the show:

And here’s a documentary about how it came together.

The concert sold out weeks in advance. That’s a tribute to the people of K-W, who always respond well to challenging ideas. Outwater’s turning K-W into one of the most talked-about orchestras in North America. But he’s not hauling the organization into strange waters against everyone’s will. The orchestra board went out looking for a maverick. This isn’t sleepy old music if the people connected to it decide it doesn’t have to be.


Music: Quantum fiddling

  1. Nice to have some culture with my breakfast. Enjoyed the first couple of composers but Webern, and every one after him, and their pushing the boundaries of logic/harmony become too discordant for my sensitive ears. 

  2. Nice to see the re-energizing of the KW Symphony.   For a small place, KW has had a pretty good ongoing musical culture since Raffi Armenian’s day – back when he was doing rehearsals in an old car dealership/sign shop.  

    And a funny little symmetry – Outwater comes to KW from the San Francisco Symphony.  A good friend, who has been Assistant Concert Master with San Francisco for many years, happens to come from Waterloo.  He was nurtured by the KW Junior Symphony, and was one of the young, successful musical exports to the U.S which the area’s musical culture produced.

    • Armenian managed to get that huge concert hall built in downtown Kitchener, apparently with the intention of staging full Wagner operas there. It’s a shockingly good concert hall. Ottawa’s jealous, or would be if more of us knew.

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