Carlos Kalmar


Following a three-year international search, the Cleveland Institute of Music on May 10 named Carlos Kalmar director of orchestral and conducting programs and principal conductor.

Kalmar, the son of Austrian-Jewish refugees, will begin his conducting and teaching duties as director designate July 1.

The Uruguay native replaces Carl Topilow, who retired from CIM in 2018 after 37 years at the helm.

Musicians from CIM’s orchestras welcomed Kalmar with musical fanfare May 10 as the institute introduced him to students, faculty, trustees, governing members and community dignitaries.

CIM courted Kalmar, 63, during the search process, CIM President and CEO Paul W. Hogle told the Cleveland Jewish News May 10. Kalmar visited twice, conducting two weeks of concerts with students. He quickly accepted the position when CIM offered it to him, Hogle said.

“When you’re working with the type of faculty and students at CIM, you have to have in front of them someone whose credentials are impeccable,” Hogle told the CJN. “Everywhere Carlos has worked, you see ensembles and productions and partnerships that have developed and expanded their communities in remarkable ways.”

Hogle said Kalmar’s performance with the Oregon Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 2010, which was widely acclaimed by critics at the time, brought him to Hogle’s attention.

The concert was recorded and released on the PentaTone label, subsequently earning two Grammy Award nominations for best orchestral performance and best engineered album, classical.

In April, Kalmar stepped down from leading the Oregon Symphony after 18 years as its music director. He continues to serve as artistic director and principal conductor of Chicago’s Grant Park Music Festival, a position he has held since 2000.

Kalmar said he is looking forward to applying the same standards he has to professional musicians in his work at CIM.

“I think you have to treat the students with a great deal of encouragement and respect,” Kalmar told the CJN May 10, adding he intends to help them prepare to win orchestral jobs across the world.

“We must represent, contribute to and advance CIM’s high standards of artistic excellence with an unwavering musical and personal integrity,” Kalmar said in a release. “I have been deeply impressed by the entire CIM community’s commitment to being the gold standard in orchestral ensemble preparation, training and artistic quality, and am honored to help lead these efforts. My visits to Cleveland have been inspiring, and my family and I are anxious to make our home in the ‘216’.”

Under Kalmar’s guidance, the Oregon Symphony recorded subsequent albums on the PentaTone label – “This England,” featuring works by Britten, Vaughan Williams and Elgar; “The Spirit of the American Range,” with works by Copland, Piston and Antheil; Haydn Symphonies 53, 64 and 96; and, most recently, “Aspects of America: Pulitzer edition” which was nominated for a 2021 Grammy Award in the best Orchestral performance category.

“Carlos has been an exemplary leader for the Oregon Symphony and the greater arts community,” Scott Showalter, Oregon Symphony president and CEO, said in the release. “The Cleveland Institute of Music now is fortunate to benefit from his many talents and experience. He will undoubtedly do great work for this storied institution.”

A regular guest conductor with major orchestras in America, Europe and Asia, Kalmar recently made subscription series debuts with the orchestras of Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. Past engagements have seen him on the podium with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra and New World Symphony, as well as the orchestras of Cincinnati, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville, Seattle and St. Louis.

Kalmar’s parents fled directly after Kristallnacht, and Kalmar showed an early interest in music and began violin studies at age 6.

His father had been placed on a Kindertransport and his mother left Vienna at age 10 with her family and immigrated to La Paz, Bolivia. His parents met in Bolivia, married, and later relocated to Uruguay to raise their sons.

“I am of Jewish origin,” he told the CJN. “Personally, I don’t have anything to do with religion.”

As the only musician in the family, Kalmar described himself as the black sheep.

By the time he was 15, his musical promise was such that his family moved back to Austria so he could study conducting with Karl Osterreicher at the Vienna Academy of Music.

He studied piano briefly, he said. He didn’t like it and described himself as “lazy.”

He compared Cleveland to Vienna in remarks at the event announcing his hiring, particularly with regard to the fact that faculty at CIM also play in The Cleveland Orchestra.

“I was incredibly excited to read and learn that this community’s excited about many things related to arts, and specifically to music,” he said.

He was set to walk University Circle and to meet CEOs of Cleveland’s major cultural institutions May 11.

Kalmar described his conducting style as “friendly” and “very demanding.”

He said he has been told, “You are very nice and you don’t stop if you don’t get what you really want.”

In addition, “I’m European,” he said. “I say things very directly.”

He has previously served as the chief conductor and artistic director of the Spanish Radio/Television Orchestra and Choir in Madrid as well as the music director for the Hamburg Symphony, the Stuttgart Philharmonic, Vienna’s Tonnkunsterorchester and the Anhaltisches Theater in Dessau, Germany.

Kalmar stopped playing violin 42 years ago, he said.

Kalmar’s responsibilities at CIM involve three components. First is the orchestra studies program, where he will be the chief of orchestral studies, and will be the program’s leader in setting, challenging, enforcing and upholding the CIM standards. Next is principal conductor, where Kalmar will conduct CIM student ensembles and select guest conductors for orchestra and chamber orchestra concerts. And with the conducting program, Kalmar will conceive and design a formal program for young conductors, with a goal of teaching two or three promising conducting students annually.

“CIM’s students, current and future, are in store for a remarkable partnership,” Robert Geho, chairman of the CIM academic affairs committee, CEO of Cleveland-based bio-technology company Diasome Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and an alumnus of CIM, said in the release.

“On campus, as CIM trains the future of classical music, we will experience Carlos’ rare ability to teach pre-professional musicians how to perform as top tier orchestral musicians through continual focus on intonation, rhythm and pulse, coherent and directional line, sound production and quality, chamber music-like balance, and entertainment/ audience values – all in the broader context of understanding and appreciating stylistic and historical perspective and integrity.

“Beyond that, CIM will encourage Carlos, while devoting primary energies to the Institute, to continue an American and international guest conducting schedule. We have also invited him to forge and strengthen relationships with other educational institutions across the country and around the world.”

Prior to accepting the position, Kalmar’s main tie to Cleveland was his sister-in-law, Dr. Aziza Wahby, a local dermatologist. She is the sister of his wife, Raffaela Kalmar, a violinist he met first professionally through her work at the Oregon Symphony. The couple intends to live in Cleveland with their two sons, who are 6 and 4. Kalmar has two adult children from a previous marriage.

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