Carlos Kalmar | University of Portland

Carlos Kalmar

“What does Oregon Symphony do? What does Oregon Symphony stand for?” These are the questions Carlos Kalmar, music director of the Oregon Symphony, has contemplated for the past 18 years, as he and his team have worked to make the symphony a part of the fabric of the community it serves and reflects. “We decided, many years ago, that our footprint in the community had to change,” he says. “We wanted to work for and with the community, to continue to work for the well-being of the community.” He has also brought recognition to the symphony beyond the Portland environs, including a highly acclaimed Carnegie Hall debut with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. The recorded album from this concert, Music for a Time of War, was later nominated for a Grammy award. He also received Grammy nominations for Spirit of the American Range (2015) and Aspects of America: Pulitzer Edition (2020). Along with his orchestra, he has worked hard to bring new music to the community. He is not a conductor who specialized in one area of music or with one composer. “I don’t like to repeat things,” he says. “I like to learn new things; I like the rush of figuring them out.” When he brought Pink Martini to play in concert with the Oregon Symphony, he even got up onstage—“Of course!” he says—to sing vocals with the group. During what would have been his final season (COVID-19 canceled the season), he had scheduled a series called the SoundStories, exploring the question: “Who has the right to be heard in our society?” and featuring works from an Austrian Jewish composer who fled the Nazis, among others. A native Spanish and German speaker, Kalmar was born in Uruguay to Austrian parents (his own family members had fled Austria due to Nazi threat). He started with the violin at a young age, and switched to conducting after they moved to Austria when he was in high school. He has been a regular guest conductor with major orchestras in America, Europe, and Asia, and has served as the chief conductor and music director for some of the most renowned orchestras in Europe. He will continue his longstanding position as artistic director and principal conductor of the Grand Park Music Festival. His influence on the city of Portland—on its vast cultural and artistic fabric—are a part
of his legacy.