Skip to main content

Professor Emeritus 

Kalam WebTonu Kalam (Professor Emeritus) served on the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty as Music Director and Conductor of the UNC Symphony Orchestra from 1988 to 2024. Under his leadership, the UNCSO was named as the 2012 first-place winner of The American Prize in Orchestral Performance—College/University Division. He was educated at Harvard University (AB, 1969), the University of California at Berkeley (MA, 1971), and the Curtis Institute of Music (Certificate, 1973). For 25 years Prof. Kalam also served as Music Director and Conductor of the Longview Symphony Orchestra in Texas, where he commuted for several concerts each season, and he has guest conducted orchestras and opera companies throughout the United States and in Europe.

Prof. Kalam was born of Estonian parents and has lived in the United States since the age of two. Trained as a conductor, pianist, and composer, he studied with conductor Max Rudolf and composers Leon Kirchner and Andrew Imbrie. His summer credits include fellowships at Tanglewood and Aspen as well as many years at the Marlboro Music Festival, where he conducted the Beethoven Choral Fantasy on five occasions at the invitation of legendary pianist Rudolf Serkin.

He has guest conducted the North Carolina Symphony, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus, the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, and the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, among others, and has served as Music Director of the New England Chamber Orchestra in Boston. He was a prizewinner in the first Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Young Conductor’s Competition and was also a finalist in the prestigious Exxon/Arts Endowment Conductors Program.

In 1994 Prof. Kalam made his European debut conducting the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra in Tallinn and he was immediately reengaged for festival appearances the following year. He returned to Europe in 1997 to guest conduct Finland’s Oulu Symphony Orchestra and in 2004 he made his fourth Estonian appearance in the “Tubin and His Time” festival. He has collaborated with artists such as Gil Shaham, Lang Lang, Isabel Leonard, Christine Goerke, Anthony Dean Griffey, Anton Kuerti, Seymour Lipkin, Roman Totenberg, and Phyllis Curtin.

Tonu Kalam has conducted over 135 opera performances for companies such as the Shreveport Opera, the Lake George Opera Festival, and the Nevada Opera. For seven years he was Music Director of the Illinois Opera Theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and he has also filled short-term visiting faculty appointments as director of the orchestra programs at the University of Miami in Florida and St. Olaf College in Minnesota. As an educator, he has twice guest conducted at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University and has led all-state, all-region, and all-county orchestras in New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas, Louisiana, and Montana. From 2008 to 2012 he also worked regularly with the Mallarmé Youth Chamber Orchestra in North Carolina. Since 2001 he has frequently served as a cover conductor for the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh.

In 1984 Prof. Kalam began a long-term association with the renowned Kneisel Hall summer chamber music festival in Blue Hill, Maine, where he spent 13 years in various administrative and musical capacities, as Executive Director, Summer Program Director, Artist-Faculty pianist, and chamber music coach. He continues to perform regularly as a pianist and chamber musician in addition to his conducting activities.

Having served 10 years on the board of directors of the International Conductors Guild, including a term as president, he is now a member of the Advisory Council of that organization, which is devoted to the advancement of the art of conducting and to serving the artistic and professional needs of conductors worldwide.