Conductor  Carlos  Kalmar
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


It is often instructive to look back at what people said and see how much is still relevant.  These interviews that I am presenting show just how alert and prescient my guests were at the time we met.  It is also fascinating to see how right most of them were when speaking about the future.  This conversation is a case in point, for conductor Carlos Kalmar looks ahead from the vantage point of 1999 and tells about things which have now come to pass.

We met in the summer of 1999, during his first engagement with the Grant Park Festival.  His career was blossoming in Europe and elsewhere, and this was a fortuitous beginning that has proved successful for all concerned.  The following year he was named Principal Conductor.  He has come a long way in a few short summer seasons, and he has broadened his own sights with several substantial American works.

When we sat down to begin, Kalmar was bubbling with excitement.  His speech was rapid and infused with a few non-English words, and his grammar was often chaotic, reflecting his genuine joy at trying to communicate myriad ideas at once . . . . .

Carlos Kalmar:    When I work, I always start to speak many languages at the same time.

Bruce Duffie:    Is one of those languages music?

CK:    Hopefully, because for me, certainly, music is a language.  I have been making music since I was seven, and I do not know how to translate the language.

BD:    Is music something that must be translated, or is it something that’s universal?

CK:    For me it’s universal, but I don’t know if for all people in the audience, or all people who are listening to music it is as universal as it is for me, because certainly I am accustomed to music; I’ve been making music for over thirty years already.  We have to face the fact that nowadays, in the times in which we are living, we see many things but we don’t hear them.  We don’t listen so carefully, and our ears are not accustomed to hear carefully.  I am always aware that maybe some things are not so clear in the music, but sometimes during concerts or during rehearsals you get the passion, and you get the sense of music there, and then it’s interesting.

BD:    You’re a conductor.  Are you really a translator, or are you merely a presenter of the ideas?  I know it’s a fine line that I’m asking.

CK:    The word
translator I would use mainly for the musicians with whom I’m working, because certainly I think about the aspect that not all the orchestras with whom you work your whole life are accustomed to the style and to the language of a certain music.  There is no question that Tchaikowsky is one language, Bizet is another, and Mozart is a third language.  All is music language, but it’s different.  Just to give an example, German orchestras are accustomed to Romantic German repertoirethe big ones certainly are.  They are also accustomed to Mozart, but for some German orchestras, it’s a little difficult to play French music, so I have to translate a little.  For the audience, I think my work as conductor is the work of presenter, but I must admit that I don’t like the word.

BD:    What word do you like to place upon yourself, if any?

CK:    I wouldn’t say a word, because for an audience, I would like to tell everybody that my job is — in Latin we say I’m primus inter pares, I’m one among musicians.  As a conductor I’m certainly the leading man, but I’m only one of them.  I don’t like the idea of the conductor being God himself talking about music, and the rest of musicians are just there and that’s the instrument.

BD:    So it’s very much a collaborative effort?

CK:    Yes!

BD:    Where does the composer fit into this?  Is he head collaborator?

kalmarCK:    No, no, the composer is more.  The composer is absolutely more, because certainly you have to invent the music while you interpret.  But being honest, I don’t think that the work of a conductor is so creative.  I think the work of a composer is creative, but we are recreating something which was already created some years ago, maybe some centuries ago.  I think the work of the conductor has not to be overrated.  I always say for the audience,
Don’t overrate the work of a conductor; for the musicians in the orchestra, Don’t underrate it.

BD:    [Laughs]  So you’re going to play both sides of the fence!

CK:    Oh yes, because I must admit that I have the experience.  Somehow the orchestras here in America with whom I have been working react a little differently from the German and the Austrian orchestras.

BD:    How so?

CK:    The Americans are never underrating a conductor’s work because they are very respectful, which some German orchestras are not, really.  I’m thinking about the joke
what’s the difference between an American orchestra, and certain European orchestras?  American orchestras, when they see a new conductor, they say, “We want to play like he tells us to play it.”  Other orchestras, maybe in Europe — and I will not mention any namessay, “We have to play the work the way he tells us, but we would like to play it as always.”

BD:    [Laughs]  So they don’t want you to change anything that they have learned fifty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty years ago?

CK:    Yes, but let’s face the fact that this is only a joke just to give an example; l
et’s not take it too seriously.  There is no question that the interpretation, the way we are doing Mozart, is completely different than it was done fifty years ago.  In my opinion, you can’t do it that same way.

BD:    Should we try to do Mozart the way Mozart did it, or should we try to do Mozart the way we expect it?

CK:    To be honest, I always say, “I don’t have his phone number and I tried really hard to get it.”  [Both laugh]  But there is no way to get his phone number, so he can’t tell me, really!  Every conductor, every musician has to be like a doctor in a certain way concerning Mozart, concerning Bach as well.  If a doctor gets his doctorate in medicine thirty years ago, he has to read carefully what’s new, what’s going on until now so he’s still modern.  For example, there are some interpretations of music of Bach, of Mozart and some other composers done by Furtwängler or Klemperer which are amazing!  They are overwhelming, but...  [pauses]

BD:    But they would be unacceptable today?

CK:    Unacceptable today!  It’s no question.  Today, with the work of conductors like John Eliot Gardiner or Nicholas McGegan, among others, certainly the style has changed a lot.  [See my Interview with Nicholas McGegan.]  We don’t play Mozart and Bach in a Romantic way.  And I always believe that when I am seventy years old, the young musicians are going to say, “Oh this old guy, he really is not any more able to conduct Mozart.”  In that time, in thirty years, maybe we are at a completely different point in the interpretation of certain music.

BD:    So way back in the twentieth century we had certain ideas, and maybe in the next century they’ll have different ideas.  Is it up to you to keep up?

CK:    Certainly is up to me, and I have to be careful with what I do.  I have to read about the composers and I have to listen to other interpretations and always think about it.

BD:    Would you want to contact the shade of Mozart or the shade of Bach and ask them how we should do their music?

CK:    Personally I wouldn’t do that, because certainly all these composers never had to think so seriously about the interpretation of their music as we have to!  They were genius, and we all are just musicians.  So it is not helpful if I ask Mozart himself, “What did you do?” because maybe he is even not able to explain what he does.

BD:    He just did it?

CK:    He just did it.

BD:    Do you just do it?

CK:    I think always that the best thing to be a good musician is to combine the intellectual side with the language of the heart.  The best musicians for me, for my understanding, play with a lot of heart while onstage; but while we are working, while we are rehearsing, they use a lot of intellect.

BD:    Is all your work done at rehearsal, or do you leave something for the spark of the evening?

CK:    In my personal case, as musicians tell me, I leave something.  But I don’t leave it because I want to; it just happens.

BD:    Do you get inspired by the moment?

CK:    I wouldn’t say it like that.  It’s just at the moment of the concert something seems to be there which is not there at the rehearsals, even if the rehearsals are extremely intense and we work very, very hard.  Just to tell you a name among conductors whom I know that are certainly very, very interesting
Claudio Abbado.  That’s a conductor for the evening.  At rehearsal everything is fine, but in the evening he does certain things, and maybe he does even not know what he does, but it happens and there is the music!

BD:    Is it your responsibility, as the conductor, to make it happen, or is it the responsibility of the musicians onstage to make it happen?

CK:    I think both.  In the case of our work as conductors, we have eighty to a hundred musicians in front of us.  It is one person, the conductor, who says, “Now,” and how it will happen, because among eighty musicians, we have maybe twenty to forty ways of doing it.

BD:    Is your way right?

CK:    I don’t know!  [Laughs]  If I say my way is right, that sounds certainly... how do you say that in English?

BD:    Arrogant?

CK:    Definitely arrogant!  If a musician, after a concert, says, “Well done,” then certainly I feel good.  I feel happy.  But concerning myself, sometimes I think,
Okay, in this concert, in a few moments during the concert, there was the spirit which I tried to get.  But after concerts I’m never really happy, never really satisfied!  Sometimes I think, “Okay, that’s where you could get, but next time you have to get more of the music, more of the spirit.

BD:    So every day you get closer?

CK:    At least I hope so.  I would say I try.

BD:    Is it even possible to get there?

CK:    In my personal work, I can’t answer.  Only the audience which is listening and the musicians with whom I’m working are maybe able to answer.  I think about performances, conductors, soloists which I’ve seen when I am sitting in the audience, where I thought,
That’s it, but not very often.

BD:    Does that, then, weigh on your mind, to try and make the same
it, or do you have to make your own it?

CK:    I always have to make my own!  There is no question.  Certainly I would like to conduct like Herbert von Karajan, but I’m not Herbert von Karajan.

BD:    So you shouldn’t try to duplicate what he did?

CK:    Not at all because it’s just not possible!  If you listen to a certain interpretation of him, or another interpretation, maybe you will get a certain idea.  But as you Americans say, “I did it my way!”  [Both  laugh]

BD:    Well, Frank Sinatra said it!

CK:    And he was completely right!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    From a huge array of repertoire, how do you decide which works you will conduct and which works you won’t conduct?

CK:    I’m quite an easy conductor to come along with because I like all the music.  I always try not to focus on a certain repertoire.

BD:    You’re a generalist?

kalmarCK:    Yes, definitely.  Definitely!  At a certain time I was a little specialized in Mozart because of my work in the Zurich Opera House, and certainly Mozart is a composer who is very important for me.  But I always try to do the whole repertoire.  I avoid the very ancient music before Bach because in my opinion you can’t do that with modern instruments.  And comparing maybe to other conductors, I don’t do so often modern music, but I do it.  But I think about certain conductors, colleagues, who really are absolutely specialized; I try not to specialize.

BD:    Let’s stick with the twentieth century music just a moment.  I asked you if you wanted to contact Mozart.  When you have a living composer whose work you are bringing forth for the first time, is it better or worse to have him there to guide you?  Or, should you just take what is in the score, and figure it out yourself?

CK:    Personally, I prefer if the composer is there, and does not talk too much!  [Both laugh]  I have had already many experiences with composers and first performances.  Most of them just give me the score, and if I have questions they tell me something about it.  The last composition I did for the first time was by an Italian composer, and he was there.  I asked him one or two questions and he made things clear; the rest was just written on the score.  I am an experienced conductor, so even if the score is very complicated, if what the composer writes in his score is not clear to me, then he should make it clear
but not with words, only with his way of writing.  I don’t avoid talking to the composers, and I don’t tell a composer, “Listen, just sit in the audience and shut up!”  [Both laugh]  But I always prefer that we talk about what he heard during the break.  And sometimes it happens that a composer changes his mind and says, “Here and there I would prefer to do it another way because it was not clear what I wrote.  So just change it.”  That may happen.

BD:    Are there times that he thanks you for your brilliance in discovering something he didn’t know he’d hidden in the score?

CK:    It must be overwhelming for a composer to listen for the first time to his work.  Because all the composers just do their work, and excepting with chamber music
— which is easier to get performed — they don’t hear it right away.  When they hear it in the rehearsal, it’s the big aha moment when they hear what comes out.

BD:    Do they say, “Gee, that sounded wonderful”?

CK:    Yeah, I hope!  [Laughs]

BD:    You’ve worked with a number of composers.  Does that help you when you are working with Beethoven and Brahms and Mozart and Bach?

CK:    No.  No.

BD:    Why not?

CK:    Because it’s different.  It’s different music and it’s certainly a different style.  If I’m doing Haydn, it helps if I’ve been doing a lot of Mozart and a lot of Schubert.  But it does not help when I do a new opera if I’ve been doing George Bizet’s Carmen because it has nothing to do with each other.  It’s just music.

BD:    Don’t all pieces of music relate to one another on some level?

CK:    On some level yes, but my point of view is it doesn’t really help you while you are doing it.  Maybe they all normally use the same kind of writing, but it’s not really the same language.

BD:    Let me ask the real easy question
what is the purpose of music?

CK:    The purpose of music is to transmit feelings.  As we all know, we human beings have so many feelings of so different kinds, that music transmits feelings.  But please don’t ask me ever if a certain phrase in a certain symphony transmits this certain feeling!  I can’t tell you.  And even if I could, which may happen, I would not like to do it, because in my understanding music transmits feelings.  But when I do it, music means a certain feeling to me, a certain cosmos of feeling.  When you’re listening, it means a cosmos of feelings to you, but it’s different.  It’s your cosmos.

BD:    So if you have four thousand listeners, you’ll have four thousand different cosmoses?

CK:    Yes, and I can live with that.  It reminds me of a review.  I once did Beethoven Nine, which I did very often, in Bamberg.  Afterwards I read the review, and the reviewer said he liked it, and he talked about this young South American conductor with his quite romantic way, and he tried to emphasize all the romantic views I had about this music and all the feelings which were transmitted in that way.  I thought, okay, I like that the review is good, but the feelings were certainly not what I tried to transmit.  So what?  There were feelings and that’s the thing which is important.  I don’t think that my way to see the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven is in any way romantic!  But if the audience thinks it’s romantic and it transmits something, wonderful!

BD:    So, it’s your job to get across something, but not necessarily a specific thing?

CK:    Not for the audience, because as I said, music, for me, is a language that I can’t translate!  If I could, then I would stress the fact that I want you to have the same feelings as I have.  But I don’t want that!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You conduct both symphony and opera.  Aside from the very obvious, what are the differences between being on the podium and being in the pit?

CK:    Being on the podium is no question easier; much easier!  Sometimes being in the pit is more interesting!  Because first of all, it’s always very challenging to work with singers, and second, when I started to make music at the age of seven, I was playing violin.  After many, many years, I decided, okay, violin maybe it’s not something for me.  Then I decided to let’s see what happens if I study conducting.  And I did it, and now here we are.

BD:    Do you ever miss the violin?

kalmarCK:    Only concerning chamber music.  But what I want to say is the only thing for me which is really interesting to spend your whole life in
excluding conductingis singing.  That’s the reason why, for me, to be in the pit is so interesting, because to express yourself with music and to use your own body and your own voice is so overwhelming that I like it very much to work with singers.  Another topic which is very important has something to do with breathing.  If you don’t breathe, you are not able to make music properly, and let me tell you, if you don’t breathe, you are never able to conduct an opera!  [Both laugh]  They have to breathe on stage, and if you don’t breathe together, after the performance the singers are going to kill you!  That’s a real challenge, and I like it very much!

BD:    [With a slight nudge]  So the fact that you have survived means that you have done it at least partially right?

CK:    I hope so! [Both laugh]

BD:    Is there ever a night that most things
or everythinggoes right onstage?

CK:    I would say everything, never.  Never.  Even in concerts, which are easier, never.

BD:    What advice do you have for younger conductors coming along?

CK:    I think it’s funny because I’m now starting to be at the age where I’m not anymore considered one of them.  But it’s not going to happen for the next fifteen years that I’m considered one of the experienced guys!  Because conductors, if we are good, we start to be really interesting at the age of sixty, sixty-five, seventy.

BD:    So now you’re a zwischenfach?  [Note: Zwischenfach refers to movement between two categories, notably singers who perform both soprano and mezzo-soprano roles, or, less frequently, basses who also sing baritone parts.]

CK:    I’m a zwischenfach conductor, yeah, right!  [Laughs]  When I was twenty-nine, I was really, really very young.  Now I am forty-one and I’m zwischenfachen; but zwischenfachen conducting is fifteen to twenty years, so let’s see what happens afterwards!

BD:    Has your progress been always upward and steady so far?

CK:    I wouldn’t say so.  I wouldn’t say so.  It was sometimes difficult, and since the age of twenty-nine, I was always music director — always, excluding one year.  I’m now in my third position as Music Director in Dessau, East Germany, which is south of Berlin, and I’m going to be Music Director of Niederosterreich Tonkünstler-Orchester in Vienna in the year 2000.  That’s a major symphonic orchestra in Vienna.  Maybe not all decisions which I’ve taken considering music directorship were correct, if you see them from my point of view now, but it was an experience.  It was not very easy, and let me tell you, to be a music director, is really sometimes very hard.  Sometimes it’s fun...

BD:    What all is involved in being music director
besides waving the stick?

CK:    There is a big difference, as you know, between being a music director in Germany or Austria, and being music director here in America.  Certainly I would very much like to experience a music directorship here in America, because I like very, very much to work with American orchestras.  Being a music director in Germany means you have to make all your programs.  In my personal case, I’m a small dictator because I make not only my programs, I make the programs for all my guests.  I invite every soloist and tell him what to play.

BD:    You don’t pick from their suggested lists?

CK:    No.  No, no, because normally the programs I make are not programs thrown together just for fun.  I try to use a certain topic and make a program relate to the topic.

BD:    And it has to fit into the season as a whole.

CK:    It has to fit into the season, yeah.  And something which is very important to me, I try to do two things with my orchestras.  First of all, if I think it’s necessary I try to increase repertoire.

BD:    Both ways — old and new?

CK:    Yeah.  And second, I try to increase the standards, no question; that’s the reason why I’m there!  I try to work with them in very, very different styles.  Facing all these topics, for me it’s not really useful if I ask another conductor, “What would you like to conduct?”  Certainly I’m not that bad, because I do talk to them, but I’m absolutely used to telling them, “I would very much like if you could do for me this and that.”  And most of the time it works.  Some other times, the conductor says, “It’s not good.  Would you mind if I do this and that?”  And I say, “Okay.”

BD:    If what they want to do is close enough?

CK:    Close enough, yeah.  The repertoire of music is so big you can do a lot of things.

BD:    Is the repertoire too big?

CK:    Well, no, no.  It’s not too big.  It’s so big that you are absolutely able to spend your whole life only in classical music, and that’s what I’m doing.

BD:    I assume that pleases you.

CK:    Yes, certainly.  Otherwise I wouldn’t do it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You mentioned that you are now forty-one.  Are you at the point in your career that you want to be at this age?

CK:    No.

BD:    Where would you want to be?

kalmarCK:    The word
career is not so important for me because career means that at a certain point in my life I have to be Music Director of Berlin Philharmonic or Chicago Symphony or whatsoever.  Why should that happen?  If it happens, I certainly will like it!  [Both laugh]  It’s no question.  For me, the most important thing is to make music with an orchestra and to make it as good as I can.  Therefore, I don’t think I would ever use the word if I’ve already arrived at the point I want to arrive.  You always have to be studying, learning and going far.

BD:    Do you like traveling all over the world?

CK:    No, no.  No, I never liked it, because my family is very important, and as you are traveling, you never see them!  My wife and my two daughters are never coming with me.  Now they are in Chicago because we are on holiday, so we decided we meet here in Chicago.  But normally that does not happen, so I can’t see them very often, and that’s not good.  As we say, I’m married to music, but music is not everything in life.

BD:    Does your wife like having a second marriage in the family?

CK:    Well, what can she say?  I was first married to music and then I married her.

BD:    So she knew what she was getting into?

CK:    No, no, no.  Even I didn’t know what I was getting into because what you call career could have been completely different than it is now.

BD:    When you’re Music Director of an orchestra, do you select the new players?

CK:    Yes. 

BD:    What do you look for when a violinist or a French horn player comes for an audition?

CK:    A very high standard, first.

BD:    Technical standard?

CK:    Technical and musical.  And second, does this musician fit into the group of musicians which I already have?  But I don’t select them by myself.  I am one among several who chooses.  Perhaps I am the most important, but there are others.  The committee is very, very big in Germany!  For the important positions, it’s the whole orchestra.

BD:    For concertmaster or a principal player?

CK:    For concertmaster, you have all eighty musicians sitting there and listening!  Everybody is allowed to say yes or no.

BD:    And then you have to arrive at a consensus?

CK:    Yes, and that’s not so difficult because normally we come along very well.  Just in case, as Music Director I am absolutely able to say no.  In Germany, if the conductor says no to a musician, then it’s no.

BD:    So you have veto power.

CK:    I have veto power.  What I don’t have is if I say,
yes and the orchestra says definitely, no, then it’s no.  But that never happened.

BD:    So you really need yes votes on both sides.

CK:    Yes.

BD:    But you say that the consensus is usually there?

CK:    Yes.  It happened three or four times while I was Music Director that the consensus was not there, and I said no.  But if I would not be one hundred percent convinced that what I’m doing is good for the orchestra, I wouldn’t say no to a new musician.

BD:    Is it difficult to change someone’s attitude from wanting to be a soloist as opposed to being a member of a section in an orchestra?

CK:    We have a really very, very good standard in new players for an orchestra.  But you have to decide pretty early if you are going to try to become a soloist or if you are going to be in an orchestra.  At least from the musicians I know, with very few exceptions, even in the principal positions in the major orchestras are wonderful, amazing musicians.  But they are orchestra musicians and not soloists.  And there is a difference.

BD:    Is the standard of the orchestral musician continuing to go up?

CK:    No question!  Absolutely no question!  And certainly, from the orchestras I know on both sides of the world
in Europe and in Americawe are still going to learn from each other.  German and Austrian orchestras have to learn very quickly that technical standard is absolutely, absolutely one hundred percent necessary to arrive to a certain point in music!  And as I see here in America, the ability of American orchestras to learn something new is outstanding!  They’re going to learn the certain style where the European orchestras are.  If you have the certain style in your blood, then it’s easier for you.  The cultural background in Europe is different from the American, and that’s the reason why there are certain differences.

BD:    When you stand in front of a new orchestra for the first time, is that a good feeling, a solid feeling, or does that depend on which orchestra it is?

CK:    I would not deny that it depends a little on the orchestra, but that’s not the most important thing.  The most important thing is what pieces I am conducting.  In my case I was very lucky, and I’m still a very lucky conductor because normally I’m never nervous.

BD:    You’re never nervous?

CK:    Never.  Certainly it’s thrilling if you stand in front of a major orchestra, one of the big ones, but if you are with a small orchestra which may be not so important for your career, and you are not trying to do your absolute best, then please get off the podium!  For me, it does not make so much difference where I am.  The difference is what I am conducting and if I have done it many times.  If the work is something which is very, very difficult for me to do, then that’s the challenge.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Tell me about making recordings.

CK:    I made very, very few, and the basic reason is I don’t like to do it!

BD:    Why?

CK:    First of all, because with the technical standard of recordings, you can cheat.  And I don’t like to cheat.

kalmarBD:    Isn’t it, then, your responsibility not to cheat, to make an honest recording?

CK:    Maybe it’s my responsibility, and I don’t want to tell you anything about other interpreters.  I’m not saying that everybody cheats, but if you know the possibilities, then you are going to use them!  And second
what is for me maybe more importantI’ve been listening to some recordings which are maybe the best you can get, and there is such an overwhelming difference between the recordings and a live concert.  I’d go to a concert if I could; I would not use recordings.  One of the major reasons why I don’t like to do recordings is that today we have records of nearly everything!  And when talking about the really major pieces — not just fifty, but maybe five hundred or a thousand — we don’t have only one recording, we have twenty-five!  So why should I make a recording if the things which I have to say are only going to come across if you listen to the concert.  You are not going to get the message if you listen to the recording!

BD:    So you’re going to turn down offers for recordings?

CK:    I’m not going to turn them down, but I’m not looking!  I could have been seeking them for years and years, but I always said no.  I’m really not interested!  [Note: In the decade since the time of this interview, Kalmar has made several recordings with the Grant Park Orchestra, all of them featuring works that have not been recorded previously, or are under-represented in the catalogue.]

BD:    Are you optimistic about the future of music?

CK:    Generally speaking, I hope very much yes.  I can only tell you about the classical music
opera and orchestras in Germany and Austria.  There, the future is going to change.

BD:    How so?  Gaze into your crystal ball!

CK:    We are getting major problems with audience.  Certainly you don’t have any problems if you are playing or conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.  They are always sold out, no question.  But I am not doing that.  I’m Music Director in Dessau, and that’s a place where you first notice.  In the major cities, they are going to notice, maybe, in five to ten years.  I believe that we have to start to think about the future of classical music now, so we are prepared in ten years to maybe make something different.  I can’t tell you exactly what we have to do differently, but I would try to start talking to executive directors and to other musicians when I see them.  What we are basically now doing is just concerts of music which has been written in the last century.  We are now presenting our music to only a few people.  Most people don’t come to the concert and it’s going to be less in the future.  So what could I do to get to more audience if the only thing I’m doing is just making concerts for less and less people and playing music which is old?  You have always to think about how I could increase that and what kind of music I should play.

BD:    You’re not going to sell out, are you?

CK:    No.  [Laughs]  I had the experience that I think that does not happen here in this country.  I had the experience that every time you tried to make with your own orchestras, for example, music for children, music for young people, or you try to make a concert which is not at all classical music — maybe going to the pops — musicians say, “Oh, this concert is not interesting for me because I was not born to do such kind of things!”  Be careful about what you say because maybe the future is going to show us things which now we are not able to think about.  But we have to change our mind.

BD:    But you’re still optimistic about the future?

CK:    I try to be, but there are more important people than I am who are already concerned about this problem.  You asked me about records.  Where you see the problem is in the record companies, now.  You see it now because you have so many records.  Everybody does a record! So it’s nearly impossible to sell; only if you are very lucky in advertising.  That’s another question, but the whole industry is going probably to come down.  Not the whole industry, but it’s going to be a very difficult time!  And that is maybe something that is going to happen, in a different way, to the orchestras if we are not able to change a little.

BD:    So you want to be part of the solution?

CK:    Certainly I want to be part of the solution, because if I’m not part of the solution, I’m not going to work on what I’m doing.

BD:    I hope you’re able to work on it for a long time.

CK:    I hope so.

BD:    Thank you for coming to Chicago.

CK:    Thank you.

The Uruguay-born conductor, Carlos Kalmar was born of Austrian parents. He showed an interest in music at an early age and began studying violin at age six. By age 15 his musical development led him to the Vienna Musikhochschule, where he studied conducting with Karl Österreicher. In June 1984 won First Prize at the Hans Swarowsky Conducting Competition in Vienna.

kalmarKalmar has been music director of the Hamburger Symphoniker (1987 to 1991), the Stuttgart Philharmonic (1991 to 1995) and Anhaltisches Theater in Dessau, Germany (1996-2000). His symphony and opera guest conducting engagements throughout Europe and North America include return appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Berlin Radio Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the National Orchestra of Spain, the Cincinnati Symphony, the ORT Orchestra of Florence, Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival, the Hamburg State Opera, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Vienna State Opera, the Detroit Symphony, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and the Zürich Opera House, among others.

Carlos Kalmar made his German debut in April 1985 with the NDR Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg, which immediately invited him back for two more concerts. Further invitations to conduct in Germany followed, including the Bamberger Symphoniker, the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonische Staatsorchester of Bremen, the Bochum Symphony Orchestra, Dortmund Philharmonic Orchestra, Essen Philharmonic Orchestra, the Frankfurt Museumsorchester and the NDR Radio Orchestra in Hannover.

In June 2000, Carlos Kalmar made his highly successful British orchestra debut with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra as part of their prestigious "Scottish Proms" series in Glasgow. July 2000 saw his first concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Other recent guest engagements included the Rio de Janeiro Opera House Orchestra, Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Mozarteumorchester-Salzburg, Jeunesse Musicales World Orchestra, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, and Colorado Symphony Orchestra, among others.

In 2000 Carlos Kalmar became the Principal Conductor of the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago. Until recently he was also Music Director of Vienna’s Tonkünstlerorchester. In 2003 he was appointed as Music Director of the acclaimed Oregon Symphony. During the 2003-2004 season, Carlos Kalmar’s guest conducting engagements in North America include the Saint Louis Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Colorado Symphony, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and the Juilliard Orchestra.

Carlos Kalmar’s most recent recordings include the 2003 release of the Joachim and Brahms Violin Concertos featuring Rachel Barton and the Chicago Symphony, and American Works for Organ and Orchestra featuring David Schrader and the Grant Park Orchestra (2002), both on the Cedille Records label.

International critics have called Carlos Kalmar "skillfully guiding and buoyant" (Chicago Tribune); "gutsy and precise" (Cincinnati Post); "graceful and intensely propulsive" (Portland Oregonian); "athletically vigorous" (Indianapolis Star); "crystal clear and transparent"; "stylistic feeling and musical fire" (Opernglas); "positively liberated" with "grit and propulsion" (New York Post).

Carlos Kalmar resides in Vienna with his wife, Britta, and two daughters, Svenja and Katja.

© 1999 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded in Chicago on July 12, 1999.  Portions (along with recordings) were used on WNIB the next day and again thirteen months later; and on WNUR in 2004 and 2009.    This transcription was made and posted on this website late in 2009.  It has also been included in the internet channel Classical Connect.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.