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Cleveland Institute of Music professor 'enters' leave of absence following protests

Carlos Kalmar cropped.jpg
Michael Jones
Cleveland Institute of Music students have been protesting Carlos Kalmar, director of the orchestral studies program, after he was cleared in August of accusations of inappropriate behavior.

Carlos Kalmar, principal conductor and director of the orchestral studies program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, has “entered into a leave of absence” for the remainder of the semester, according to a CIM spokesperson.

The move comes two weeks after students staged a sit-in to protest Kalmar. Many students attended rehearsal without instruments, and others sat in the audience space in support.

The conductor was investigated earlier this year -- and cleared -- following allegations of inappropriate conduct.

Student government had circulated a petition calling for his resignation. A flyer about the protests said students had “lost trust” in him and were uncomfortable under his leadership.

The school responded to the protests with a statement saying that administration was working with students “to create opportunities for discussion.” A planned Sept. 26 performance at Severance Hall, under Kalmar’s baton, was also canceled.

In a statement Saturday morning, CIM said it will not be commenting further on Kalmar’s leave. An additional, internal email obtained by Ideastream further states:

“We know that this decision will disappoint many—including the faculty members, trustees and alumni who served on his search committee, and our students and alumni, who have been consistent and courageous advocates for Mr. Kalmar’s work to revitalize and elevate our orchestra program to its next level of achievement. We are grateful for his commitment to the conservatory and all that he has accomplished.”

The email further states that this semester’s orchestra programs will be conducted by Sameer Patel, of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus, and Anthony Parnther of the San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra. Parnther’s program on Nov. 15 features Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47, which was part of the canceled Sept. 26 program.

The protest this month stemmed from a Title IX investigation started in April. About 30 students, faculty and staff were interviewed by former U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon. In dismissing the case, acting Title IX coordinator Dean Southern said "the conduct was not on the basis of sex, nor was it so severe or pervasive as to create an objectively offensive environment such that it denies anyone equal access to educational opportunities at CIM based on gender."

The school did not comment further on the allegations, protest or investigation.

After the investigation was announced, Title IX director Vivian Scott departed the institution for undisclosed reasons. In July, the school cut 15 percent of its administrative staff.

On Sept. 8, the editorial board of the Observer was highly critical of CIM’s handling of the investigation and questioned why Scott was removed. The paper is part of student media at CIM’s neighbor, Case Western Reserve University. The schools run a joint music program.

Uruguayan-born and Vienna-trained, Carlos Kalmar was named director of orchestral and conducting programs at CIM in 2021, following a three-year search. He left the Oregon Symphony after 18 years as its music director to take the post. He has been artistic director of Chicago’s Grant Park Music Festival since 2000.

Following the dismissal of charges, festival CEO Paul Winberg told the Chicago Tribune that the outcome “reinforces our decision this spring to move forward with Carlos Kalmar as our Artistic Director and Principal Conductor through the 2024 season.”

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.