Arts and Humanities

Tonu Kalam retires after 36 years of beautiful music

The longtime conductor inspired and challenged the UNC Symphony Orchestra to perform brilliantly.

Black and white image of Tonu Kalam with text reading
Photo by Jane Hamborsky

Tonu Kalam will step away from the conductor鈥檚 podium to retire on June 30.

Since 1988, the professor in the College of Arts and Sciences鈥 music department has guided the UNC Symphony Orchestra to create world-class performances and win a variety of prizes, including first place in the 2012 The American Prize in Orchestral Performance 鈥 College/University Division, for the video of its live performance of the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances.

The orchestra often presented faculty and student musicians as concerto soloists and regularly collaborated with UNC Opera鈥痑nd choral ensembles on productions such as Britten鈥檚鈥淲ar Requiem,鈥濃疧rff鈥檚 鈥淐armina Burana,鈥濃疢ozart鈥檚鈥淐os矛 fan tutte,鈥 Brahms鈥欌淕erman Requiem,鈥 Poulenc鈥檚鈥淕loria鈥 and the Verdi鈥淩equiem鈥濃痠n Murry Sidlin鈥檚鈥淒efiant Requiem鈥濃痯roduction.

The orchestra appeared on numerous occasions in 一品探花论坛 Performing Arts series, including performances with world-renowned violinist Gil Shaham of Tchaikovsky鈥檚 Violin Concerto in 2015, of Philip Glass鈥 Symphony No. 4 in CPA鈥檚 鈥淕lass at 80鈥濃痜estival in 2017 and Metropolitan Opera star mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard in 2020.

as faculty conductor of the UNC Symphony Orchestra on April 24 included Brahms鈥 鈥淪chicksalslied, Op. 54鈥 with the UNC Chamber Singers and 一品探花论坛 Choir.

Kalam also taught conducting courses and coached numerous chamber music ensembles.

Before Kalam鈥檚 retirement, the music department solicited congratulatory remarks from students, alumni and fellow faculty. Here are a few:

鈥淭hank you for making orchestra an environment where students could completely forget about the anxieties that college naturally comes with, and where we could instead focus solely on creating beautiful music.鈥 鈥 Ayman Bejjani 鈥22

鈥淐ongratulations on your retirement and your career leading an amazing orchestra and influencing the lives of countless musicians!鈥 鈥 Cheryl Schlitter 鈥13, cellist, Raleigh Symphony Orchestra

鈥淵ou are a brilliant musician and an amazing teacher. UNC has been so lucky to have you! I loved performing with you over the years. Those concerto concerts were some of my fondest memories! It鈥檚 hard to imagine UNC without you.鈥 鈥 Clara Yang, associate professor, UNC-Chapel Hill music department

鈥淏est of luck in your retirement! I have had great experiences playing under your leadership, and I have learned very much from you. Your impact on our department has been immeasurable.鈥 鈥 Ryan Phillips 鈥24

鈥淚 learned so much about being an orchestral musician during my time at UNC, and I apply that experience to my work on a daily basis. I also revel in the moments where I get to program the 鈥榟idden gem鈥 pieces you introduced me to for my own orchestra. Thank you for your dedication to the music program at UNC.鈥 鈥 Erin Lunsford Norton 鈥15, vice president of artistic planning, New Jersey Symphony