In 1998, Open Ears founding director, Peter Hatch, had a novel vision for a new type of festival. This vision, in collaboration with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, was to provide adventurous programming focusing on new music and sound. In 2009, Open Ears Festival took its first steps to become an independent organization and become a featured festival under its own vision and brand. During this time, Waterloo Region was beginning to emerge as a global hub for technology and innovation, sparking a rebirth of the community and a thirst for and demand for arts and culture experiences. 

Open Ears has become a pillar festival of the community, one which shares in the values of innovation and disruption. As the region continues to grow, we strive to capture new audiences with programming that speaks to the adventurous spirit of the area and the people who call Waterloo Region home. 

Open Ears strives to create unique concert experiences and disrupt our audience’s conceptions of what ‘music’ is, or what it can be. We present an eclectic range of festival events from indie classical music to electroacoustic to sound installations. The festival explores the theme of integrating community through the use of unexpected musical settings.

The focus of all our events is the art of listening. Featuring a mix of local, national and international artists, performances have featured ensembles from string quartets, chamber orchestras, and choirs to turntable art, multimedia, performance art, and dance. Our music is presented in traditional concert halls and churches, as well as alternative spaces, including abandoned buildings, coffee shops, and civic squares and parks.

Open Ears has been combining installations with performance, mixing up musical genres, and working in alternative venues since our inception. Many of these elements have become commonplace in Canadian new music. Open Ears remains unique, though, thanks to the mix of composed with improvised music, multiple collaborations with other organizations (musical and otherwise), and the sheer breadth of programming range from classical ensembles to sound art. With an increased focus on ‘sound-making’, we explore beyond a traditional music concert. The festival has developed a national and international identity and continues to play a vital role in the life of contemporary art in Waterloo Region.

Our history reflects the transition from a biennial to an annual festival; the addition of the smaller Between the Ears. Effective 2022, Open Ears will return to a full-scale, multi-day festival.

La chambres des machines at the Registry Theatre, #BTE13. Credit: Ron Hewson

Ben Grossman perfoming in the Dreamworld Jukebox #BTE15. Credit: G. Oh

Shary Boyle and Christine Fellows at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church #OE14. Credit: Ron Hewson



The Kitchener Downtown Business Association recognizes the Open Ears Festival for its contribution to the Arts in downtown Kitchener. Festival Highlights include:

  • Klang:  all the church bells in downtown rung at once to open the festival
  • Ensemble Karel, an electroacoustic bicycle orchestra from Montreal
  • An audience of 10,000 at Victoria Park live electroacoustic music by Peter Hannan with a fireworks display
  • Performances by the KWS, Penderecki String Quartet, Elora Singers, The Bach Elgar Choir, Forty Fingers Sax Quartet; premieres by: Wende Bartley, Glenn Buhr, Peter Hannan 
  • The Sonic Playroom at “Goudies”, an abandoned department store, attracts over 1000 people 
  • Soniferous Gardens – a dance/theatre/music performance throughout Victoria Park by Richard Windeyer


The festival hosts the 50th anniversary of the Canadian League of Composers. Highlights include:

  • Performances by Dancetheatre David Earle, Uri Caine Ensemble, Fubuki Daiko, Martin Tetreault, Michel Cote, K-W Philharmonic Chamber Singers; premieres by Roger Bergs, Harry Freedman, Henry Kucharzyk, Juliet Palmer, Heather Schmidt and John Weinzweig


  • A residency by German/Canadian sound artist Gordon Monahan
  • Bang on a Can All Stars; DJ Spooky’s Boulez Remix; Schubert’s Winterreise performed by the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony 
  • Performances by Pamela Z, Francois Houle, Sanctuary, Glass Orchestra, Kappa; premieres by Melissa Hui, Nick Storring, Alice Ho, James Harley, Nicholas Basque, Yannick Plannedon/Philippe Keyser and Paul Dutton.


  • ‘Pre-events’ in collaboration with the Perimeter Institute: Brian Eno, Bang on a Can All Stars
  • NUMUS’ production of Tim Brady and John Sobol’s opera The Salome Dancer
  • Diamanda Galas performing to a packed church followed by Negativland at City Hall
  • Leonard Cohen Remixes: new works by James Harley, Nicole Lizee, John Oswald/J. Rolfe, Performances by the Ikue Mori/Zeena Parkins, Bob Ostertag/Pierre Hebert, Sanctuary, Anne Bourne/Hildegard Westerkamp, MIDI Tapant.


  • Fred Frith and Malcolm Goldstein in a rare meeting; Morton Feldman’s 4 ½ hour long For Philip Guston
  • An appearance by legendary composer/pianist Frederic Rzewski
  • Legion of Memory, a site-specific theatre piece housed at Kitchener’s former Legion Hall
  • Systatic: an all night gathering of live electronic music, dj’s, and visual artists
  • Performances by Pamela Z, Scanner, Safa, Barnyard Drama, Zs, Francois Houle, I Have Eaten the City, TorQ, Kathy Kennedy and Finger. World premiere by Linda Smith.


  • Harbingers of Spring – a soundwalk/performance through the RARE ecological reserve
  • Gordon Monahan’s Speaker Swinging playing to 400 at a very abandoned warehouse
  • Erik Satie’s Vexations performed (with ancillary activity) by a tag team of over 40 pianists
  • The premiere of new instruments and works using the Bohlen-Pierce tuning system
  • Performances by Turtle Island String Quartet, Flying Bulgars, Paul Cram, Pierre Tanguay, Lisle Ellis, Safa, Red Chamber, Eve Egoyan, Francisco Lopez, by Contact Contemporary Music, Bradyworks, Evergreen Club, The Books, Hard Rubber Orchestra, Nagata Sachu, spin; premieres by Giorgio Magnanensi, Gordon Monahan, Eve Egoyan/David Rokeby, Bob Pritchard, Andew O’Connor, Micheline Ro


  • A rare appearance by Korea’s virtuosic Noreum Machi drum ensemble
  • Riveting performances by Nunavut’s Tanya Tagaq and legendary violinist Tony Conrad 
  • Artists-in-residence Nicole Lizee, John Oswald and Greg Oh featured in very different contexts
  • Collaborations with NUMUS, Da Capo Singers, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, Penderecki String Quartet, KWAG, Zero to One Gallery, CAFKA, University of Waterloo Drama and Blue Dot
  • A “surprise” appearance by the all-acoustic Valody shortly after midnight at the Blue Dot causing hundreds of dancers to (literally) make a jump from loud “dance” music to street-band music
  • Performances by Toca Loca, Eve Egoyan, People Like Us, John Oswald, Maryem Tollar, Tanqy Tagaq Trio, Tony Conrad, The Rent, Toca Loca, DJ P-Love, Penderecki String Quartet, Sideband


First Between the Ears Festival

  • Ontario premiere of Inuksuit and 70+ percussionists from around North America
  • Evening concert featuring TorQ Percussion Quartet, Architek Percussion, Morris Palter, Aiyun Huang


  • Festival launch featuring GREX, LED BY ALEX SAMARAS
  • RETHINK KEYBOARDS: junctQin, featuring pianists Elaine Lau, Joseph Ferretti and Stephanie Chua
  • Visual artist Shary Boyle with singer/songwriter Christine Fellos in Spell to Bring Lost Creatures Home
  • Young composer’s NewWorks Reading Session, co-presentation with DaCapo Chamber Choir
  • Christian Bӧk performs material from his repertoire of sound-poems, literature from “The Xenotext”
  • White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, script read by Majdi Bou-Matar, Mike Farwell, Grace Lynn Kung, Nora Young
  • Friendly Rush: A Farewell to Kings, Friendly Rich, composer
  • Song is Spirit Heard, choral music by veteran and emerging Canadian composers
  • Silents: Andrew Downing and Melodeon, silent movie viewing
  • Veda Hille, back up y members of GREX
  • Rethink Viola Da Gamba & Hurdy Gurdy, performances by Pierre-Yves Martel and Ben Grossman
  • Four Quartets, Penderecki String Quartet w/ Leslie Fagan
  • Mirror, live performance of drawings and abstract vocal utterances. Created by Isabella Stefanescu (artistic director and euphonopen sound), Ian Crutchley (co-creator)
  • Blair McMillen, pianist
  • Fawn Opera’s, L’Homme et le Ciel
  • Nexus Percussion & Sepideh Raissadat
  • Rethink ElectroAcoustic, featuring Charlotte Mundy, vocalist
  • Polka Dogs, John Millard (banjo, vocals)
  • Steve Reich’s most important composition, Drumming, performed by an ensemble of twelve, including three original members of Steve Reich and Musicians
  • Radio Wonderland + Weird Canada, DJ meets mashup meets sonic art
  • Ana Sokolovic: Love Songs, starring Kristin Hoff 
  • Bicycle Opera Project, Canadian contemporary opera intended to close the distance between audiences and opera singers
  • Essential Opera: New Works Triple-Bill
  • Sound installations:
    • The Elora Piano, David Jensenius
    • TreeOrgan, Max Streicher (sculptor, installation artist), Garnet Willis (Composer, sculptor, audio-engineer, instrument builder
    • Convergency Machine, Sandor Ajzenstat
    • Intonarumori Noise Machines, Luigi Russolo (composer)
    • CAFKA Exhibition Projects


  • SUPERCOLLIDER, a spontaneous improvisation of music and dance with Montreal’s Lori Freedman and Marc Boivin
  • Composer and Open Ears founding Artistic Director Peter Hatch’s instigating sound collaboration, Sirens of Victoria Park,  with the Kitchener Waterloo Multicultural Festival. Lori Freedman and Kathryn Ladano on clarinets with the MyAudia Superurban Ensemble
  • Open Ears Regatta & Dreamworld Jukebox, a collaboration with the Our World Festival and Summer Lights Festival. Featured artists: Suba Sankaran and Dylan (Freeplay Duo), Ben Grossman, James Harley, David Jensenius, Kathryn Ladand & Michale Borkovic (Ladano/Borkovic Duo), Joe Sorbara & Ken Aldcroft (Sorbara Aldcroft Duo), Marc Boivin & LOri Freedman (Supercollider), and Jason White
  • SOUNDGLIDING: Music & Dance. Featured performances:
    • GIMME MY SHOES (Marie-Josée Chartier, choreographer and dancer, John Oswald, music)
    • SUPERCOLLIDER (Lori Freedman, music improvisation, Marc Boivin, movement improvisation, James Harley, sound improvisation and John Creson and Adam Rose, Video improvisation)
    • STUDY FOR A CROUCHING FIGURE/ÉTUDE POUR SILHOUETTE ACCROUPIE (Marie-Josée Chartier, choreographer, Brendan Wyatt, dancer, Jeremh Bell, Leslie Ting,Jody Davenport, Miriam Stewart-Kroeker, Gregory Oh (musicians), Marie-Josée Chartier & Don McGoldrick, set design, Rodneh Sharman, music)
    • A CRAZY KIND OF HOPE (directed and conceived by Sarah Chase in creation with Andrea Nann, Antoine Bedard & Justin Rutledge, music)


  • Yellow Wallpaper, original music, intense drama and physical dance, used to create a human story of love, loathing and denial. Julia Aplin, Anna Chatterton, Jordana Deveau, Ken MacKenzie, John Gzowski, Jim Ruston. Produced by Proper Slang Productions and Dance at The Registry, in cooperation with Open Ears and InterArts Matrix
  • Greg Harrison (drumset), and Ryan Maguire (media artist) in DRUMnBASS
  • The magical, walking experience of Listening Choir, led by Christopher Willes and Adam Kinner
  • Feature artist, Dorjee Tsering, leading an evening of Tibetan music, performing traditional songs and original compositions
  • Choreographies of Encounter, a workshop in creating interdisciplinary work, co-facilitated by Ame Henderson, Brendan Jensen, Mairéad Filgate, Ishan Davé
  • Celebrating National Drone Day, an annual holiday for drone music brings together Michale Keith, Snake church and Ted Harms & Neil Ballantyne, all making “noise that matters”!
  • A workshop reading of Refugee Hotel, the telling of the memories of a refugee in Canada, presented by Aluna Theatre in association with the MT Space, directed by Beatriz Pizana
  • Vicky Chow (piano) and Tristan Perich (composition, sound design) join forces in Surface Image, the artistically blurred marriage of Chow’s virtuosic play and Perich’s electronic aesthetic
  • what we are saying”, performers gathering in an open space to speak and move in unison where every decision is a group decision. Choreographed by Ame Henderson, leader in interdisciplinary creation
  • Internationally renowned dancer/choreographer Bill Coleman, and avant-garde composer Gordon Monahan in Dollhouse
  • Maryem Tollar, Sophia Grigoriadis, Brenda MacCrimmon and Jayne Brown in Nazar-I Turkwaz, a unique combination of musician/singers immersed in diverse traditions and heritage
  • Conducting the Ether featuring Carolina Eyck (theremin), Penderecki String Quartet, Sean Michaels (author) and special guests
  • DODECAPHUNK w/ Allison Au, Kyle Brenders Band, Allison Au (saxophone)
  • MIXTAPE LOVE, featuring Bernice, Tenderness, Katherine Young
  • Anthropologies Imaginaires with Andrew Reed Miller, Gabriel Dharmoo (vocals), Andrew Reed Miller (double bass)
  • Member of the Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, Sarah Neufeld (violin, vocals), Stefan Schneider (drums), Leanne Zacharias (cello)
  • Mixtape Love, DJ and producer Pursuit Grooves and Unbuttoned, together
  • Artist talks:
    • Tristan Perich & Ryan Maguire
  • Sound installations:
    • The Ghost in the MP3, Ryan Maguire
    • GIF Reel: People of the Future, Jannifer Chan, Clint Enns, Winston Hacking, Jodie Mack, Alison S.M. Kobayashi, Phillip David Stearns
    • 1-Bit Symphony/0.01s, Tristan Perich
    • Machine Drawings, Tristan Perich (media artist)
    • CAFKA.16, Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area
    • Octave, Tristan Perich


  • Drum roll please….  Open Ears opening event, an interactive piece for audience and snare drums
  • Slamming Sounds, featuring slam poetry artist, Janice Lee with improvised music by Kathryn Ladano
  • Songbirdsongs, the musical event featuring John Luther Adams’ epic work for piccolo and percussion where musicians float in canoes on Victoria Park Lake
  • With Open Ears Festival partner, Communitech, ART HUB, is a guided tour where audiences can see artists and musicians animating the historic, restored innovation district building
  • Our Sounds, the intimate and immersive concert where Waterloo region’s emerging and established composers present world premiers and rarely performed works


  • Portal Dance presents a new multimedia work, Broken
  • Music box composition workshop with Jason Doell
  • Night at THEMUSEUM, collaboration with True North Waterloo, THEMUSEUM and Quartetfest, featuring Hard Wired with Penderecki String Quartet and TorQ Percussion, The Canadian premiere of August Read-Thomas’ Selene, Mason Bates’ Bagatelle, Daniel Morphy’s Thrown from a Loop, and the world premiers of NIcole Lizee’s new octet
  • International guest curated Series: Ben Grossman with Toshimaru Nakamura (Japan), Martin Taxt (Norway),
  • Sound of the Mountain (Elizabeth Millar, Craig Pederson, Quebec), Neil Ballantyne and Ted Harms (Waterloo region)
  • The Lost Ones, a concert/play hybrid featuring Pam Patel and Jason White
  • Feature performance by Studio Dan, The Music of Frank Zappa and his echoes, including a performance of Zappa’s Improvised Concerto for Bicycle
  • Stereoscope’s saxophone due of Jacob Armstrong and Olivia Shortt
  • Blue Dot, a dance music celebration of the union with nature and it’s undiscovered mystery
  • Open Ears’ signature Emerging Composer Composition piece with Katerina Gimon, a new piece for multi-instruments and voice experiences in the open setting of City of Kitchener’s Victoria Park
  • The avant-garde ensemble of No Hay Banda, showcasing the works of Anthony Tan and Mauricio Pauly
  • Film feature, Tony Conrad Documentary: Completely in the Present, exploring the life and works of the legendary artist, musician and educator
  • Jason Doell CD release of “… amid the cannon’s roar”. 
  • Acclaimed artists Nico Muhly (composer, pianist) with Nadia Sirota (violist) in an evening of indie classical music
  • Onion Honey,  old-time folky band with a new music twist
  • Awaken: states of human consciousness interconnected with nature, the music of Odawa composer, Barbara Croall, with Nu Ears Ensemble
  • Nova Voces: New Music for Choir, the new sounds of choir by composers Nico Muhly, Caleb Burhans, Claude Vivier, John Cage, David Lang and Caroline Shaw, under the direction of Mark Vourinen
  • Ilimaq, with Ben Reimer, famed Montreal contemporary drumset artist , performing the tour-de-force work by renowned composer, John Luther Adams
  • 2018 sound installations:
    • Parabel II: Persona, Colin Labadie, Jordan Mandel
    • Amadinda and Tubellum, Amadinda and Tubellum
    • ARENA, presented by CAFKA


  • Drum roll please …., interactive one-hour piece for audience and snare drums
  • Cymatic Synths, a night of hypnotic music featuring the Seagram Synth Ensemble and the Waterloo Tape Music Club
  • The 12-hour performance of Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting In A Room, in languages including French, German, Korean, Urdu, Arabic, Anishnabeg, Malayalam
  • 10 Corners, 10 interpretations of the same setlist
  • Outdoor, emerging composer performance, world premier of Kasia Czarski’s work for multi-instruments and voice
  • Gerard Grisey’s Le Noir De l’Etoile, six percussionists in circle formation in a one-hour work of light and sound


Open Ears Festival cancelled due to global pandemic