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, Germany. He was principal conductor of the Tonkünstlerorchester, Vienna, from 2000 to 2003. Since 2000, Kalmar is the principal conductor of the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago. 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.
Kalmar has been married twice. His first marriage produced two daughters. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his second wife Raffaela, and their son, Luca.
- 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
- David Stabler (12 April 2008). "Oregon Symphony conductor renews contract". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
- "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.
- David Stabler (2015-01-05). "Oregon Symphony conductor Carlos Kalmar is a new father". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2020-02-16.
- 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
- Interview with Carlos Kalmar, July 12, 1999
- Oregon Art Beat: Conductor Carlos Kalmar's 10th Anniversary
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