Kalmar began violin studies at age six. At age fifteen, he enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Music where his conducting teacher was Karl Österreicher. In 1984, he won first prize in the Hans Swarowsky Conducting Competition in Vienna. Kalmar has been music director of the Hamburger Symphoniker (1987–91), the Stuttgart Philharmonic (1991–95), and the Anhaltisches Theater in Dessau. He was principal conductor of the Tonkünstlerorchester, Vienna, from 2000 to 2003.
In the USA, Kalmar has served the principal conductor of the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago since 2000. He is also music director of the Oregon Symphony, since 2003. In April 2008, the orchestra announced the extension of Kalmar's contract as music director to the 2012–13 season. In February 2020, the Oregon Symphony announced that Kalmar is to conclude his music directorship of the orchestra at the close of the 2020-2021 season. In May 2021, the Cleveland Institute of Music announced the appointment of Kalmar as its next director of orchestral studies, effective 1 July 2021.
- Music for a Time of War. Works by Charles Ives, John Adams, Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams. The Oregon Symphony. PENTATONE PTC 5186393 (2011)
- This England. Works by Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten. The Oregon Symphony. PENTATONE PTC 5186471 (2012)
- Spirit of the American Range. Works by George Antheil, Walter Piston, Aaron Copland. The Oregon Symphony. PENTATONE PTC 5186481 (2015)
- Haydn Symphonies. Carlos Kalmar, Oregon Symphony Orchestra. PENTATONE PTC 5186612 (2017)
- Aspects of America. Carlos Kalmar , Oregon Symphony Orchestra. PENTATONE PTC 5186727 (2018)
- Macaluso, p. 194
- "Oregon Symphony Announces 2020-21 Season, Celebrating Famed Conductor Carlos Kalmar's Final Year As Music Director" (Press release). Oregon Symphony. 6 February 2020. Retrieved 2020-02-16.
- Joe Ranieri (6 February 2020). "Oregon Symphony music director to step down after 2020-2021 season". KGW 8. Retrieved 2020-02-06.
- Douglas Perry (2020-02-07). "Oregon Symphony announces ambitious 2020-21 season, music director Carlos Kalmar's last; Wynton Marsalis on tap". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2020-02-16.
- "Carlos Kalmar Named Director of Orchestral & Conducting Programs and Principal Conductor" (Press release). Cleveland Institute of Music. 10 May 2021. Retrieved 2021-05-12.
- David Stablet (2011-02-19). "Carlos Kalmar brings fierce focus to the Oregon Symphony, but at a cost". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2021-02-12.
- Amy Wang (2017-02-01). "Oregon Symphony conductor shares his immigration story". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2021-05-12.
- Macaluso, Tony; Julia S. Bachrach & Neal Samors (2009). Sounds of Chicago's Lakefront: A Celebration Of The Grant Park Music Festival. Chicago's Book Press. ISBN 978-0-9797892-6-7.
- Seldy Cramer Artists agency page on Carlos Kalmar
- Oregon Symphony biography of Carlos Kalmar
- Grant Park Music Festival, conductors biography page
- Bruce Duffie, Interview with Carlos Kalmar, July 12, 1999
- Oregon Art Beat: Conductor Carlos Kalmar's 10th Anniversary
| Chief Conductor, Hamburg Symphony Orchestra
| Chief Conductor, Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra