Born in 1959 in Cologne, he studied the piano with Aloys Kontarsky, conducting with Wolfgang von der Nahmer, and composition with York Höller at the Cologne Music Academy, as well as electronic music at IRCAM with Vinko Globokar and in Cologne with Hans Ulrich Humpert.
He was the cofounder, artistic director and conductor of Ensemble Musikfabrik. He has made regular guest appearances with ensembles and orchestras such as Klangforum Wien, Collegium Novum Zürich, Ensemble Modern, NDR Symphony, BBC Symphony, Bavarian Radio Symphony, and Munich Philharmonic. As an opera conductor he has appeared notably at the State Opera Unter den Linden Berlin, Stuttgart Opera, Vienna Festival, Munich Biennale, and Salzburg Festival.
As a composer he has received commissions from Donaueschinger Musiktage, Ultraschall Berlin, Eclat in Stuttgart, Radio Symphony Orchestra in Vienna, and Hamburg Symphony. His first music theatre piece, Bericht vom Tod des Musikers Jack Tiergarten, was premiered at the 1996 Munich Biennale, while his operas Molière oder die Henker des Komödianten and Inferno were premiered at the Bremen Opera. An opera based on the novel The Possessed by Witold Gombrowicz was commissioned by Theater an der Wien for 2010. He wrote orchestra music for the silent film The Weavers (1927) for the Augsburg Philharmonic, and the opera Pym after Edgar Allan Poe for the Heidelberg Theatre. Currently, he focuses on orchestral music for expressionist silent film, including a commission for the 2019 Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik and Carinthian Summer.
His teaching activities include ensemble seminars at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen and the Hanover Academy, directorship of the ensemble forum at the Summer Courses in Darmstadt, the conducting forum for ensemble music of the German Music Council, and conducting courses at the Salzburg Summer Academy. Since 2015 he has been professor of conducting at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg, as well as visiting professor at the Reina Sofía School of Music in Madrid and the Zurich Conservatoire.
Johannes Kalitzke’s numerous awards include the Bernd Alois Zimmermann Prize of the City of Cologne and a stipend for the Villa Massimo in Rome (2003). He has been a member of the Berlin Academy of the Arts since 2009 and the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in Munich since 2015.