The Estonian-American conductor and music pedagogue, Tõnu Kalam, was born in Germany of Estonian parents, and has lived in the USA since the age of two (1950). He studied at Harvard University (A.B., 1969), the University of California at Berkeley (Master of Arts, 1971) and the Curtis Institute of Music (Certificate, 1973). In his training as a classical conductor, composer and pianist, he studied with conductor Max Rudolf and composers Leon Kirchner and Andrew Imbrie. Kalam won a prize in the inaugural Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Young Conductor's Competition, and also placed as a finalist in the Exxon/Arts Endowment Conductors Program. Also included in his credits are summer fellowships at Tanglewood and Aspen, and numerous years at the Marlboro Music School in Vermont, where he was the guest conductor for the Beethoven Choral Fantasy on five occasions at the invitation of the legendary pianist Rudolf Serkin.
Tõnu Kalam's guest-conducting credits are numerous and include the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra, Madison Symphony Orchestra, Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus, Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and East Texas Symphony Orchestra, among others; and has served as Music Director of the New England Chamber Orchestra in Boston. His European debut was in 1994 where he conducted the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra in Tallinn and was immediately re-engaged to make festival appearances the following year. He has since returned to Europe in 1997 to guest conduct Finland's Oulu Symphony Orchestra and again in 2004 for the fourth time in Estonia at the Tubin and His Time festival.
Tõnu Kalam has conducted over 135 opera performances for companies such as the Shreveport Opera, the Lake George Opera Festival, and the Nevada Opera Company. For 7 years he was Music Director of the Illinois Opera Theatre at the University of Illinois 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. Since 1984, he has been associated with the Kneisel Hall summer chamber music festival in Blue Hill, Maine, where he served for 13 years in a variety of administrative and musical capacities including Executive Director, Summer Program Director, Artist-Faculty pianist and chamber music coach. As an educator, he has conducted all-state, all-region and all-county orchestras in New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas, Louisiana, and Montana, and he has worked regularly with the Mallarmé Youth Chamber Orchestra in North Carolina. He also frequently serves as cover conductor for the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra in Raleigh.
Presently Tõnu Kalam is a Professor of Music, teaching instrumental conducting, at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1988. He is serving as Music Director and Conductor of the UNC Symphony Orchestra. Under his leadership, the UNC Symphony Orchestra was named the 2012 first-place winner of The American Prize in Orchestral Performance - College/University Division. For 25 years Kalam concurrently held the position of Music Director and Conductor of the Longview Symphony Orchestra in Texas, where he commuted for several concerts each season. He is also Founder, Music Director and Conductor of the Chapel Hill Chamber Orchestra. Having served 10 years on the board of directors of the Conductors Guild, including a term as President (2005-2006), 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. He continues to perform regularly as a pianist and chamber musician in addition to his educational and conducting activities. He is married since 1990 to Annalee Faith Wolf.