KALMAR HAS HIS OWN reserved parking spot outside the Schnitz. It sits on SW Park Avenue, just steps from the building’s stage door, and after rehearsal he strides out to a nondescript rental car supplied by the symphony and drives off. The sight is a reminder of something he said earlier in the day: “It’s lonely being a conductor. I don’t care for it, but to maintain a certain authority, you have to distance yourself from your musicians. I can’t go drinking with them. I’m responsible for the output of this orchestra, and I cannot be the pal of everybody.”
There is something austere and superior about Kalmar. He has never once been to a rock concert. (“I’m sorry,” he explains, “but pop music is pop music, and you just cannot talk about Mozart and the Beatles in the same sentence.”) Still, his detachment seems like a bit of an act once you stumble across his Facebook page. It features a chummy picture of the conductor in a broad black cowboy hat and a host of sprightly banter. “Bar might happen tonite after concert,” Kalmar burbles. “You rocketh, dude,” Steven Sechrist weighs in. Violinist Elina Vähälä adds, “you disappeared … i’m gonna go and pack now, take care, ok?”
So I wasn’t that shocked when Kalmar invited me to join him and five symphony musicians at his Goose Hollow home for dinner and drinks.
Kalmar’s place, a sparsely appointed and semi-anonymous townhouse, sits on a steep, hard-to-find street. When I arrive, the conductor is wearing a T-shirt bearing a photo of four gnarly Native American warriors and the words “Homeland Security, fighting terrorism since 1492.” He sits on the balcony with concertmaster Jun Iwasaki, both men clownishly screaming as they try to summon a bassoonist—lost below in a welter of dead ends—with the sound of their voices.
The bassoonist finally arrives. Kalmar goes into the kitchen. He is an ardent gourmet, as enchanted with food as he is with music, and this evening he is preparing wild salmon that will sit atop a Turkish phyllo pastry covered in whitefish paste, champagne sauce, green beans, and potatoes. There are several bottles of an Austrian wine varietal, zweigelt, on hand, and the vino is flowing quite freely as the cooking becomes a happy, collaborative enterprise.