Rafael Payare


Chief Conductor: Ulster Orchestra
Principal Conductor: Castleton Festival

“Undoubtedly a brilliant conductor of truly rare substance."
Michael Bastian Weiss - AZ Kultur - 25 February 2015

Rafael Payare has been Chief Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra since September 2014 and was recently appointed Principal Conductor of the Castleton Festival in Virginia, taking over from the late Lorin Maazel.

Developing into one of the most sought after young conductors, Payare has made recent debuts with the Vienna Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, London Symphony and the Chicago Symphony at the Ravinia Festival. Other highlights have included the City of Birmingham Symphony, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Seoul Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Gothenburg Symphony and the Los Angeles and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic orchestras. 14-15 also saw his acclaimed opera debut conducting Madame Butterfly at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm. He has enjoyed collaborations with soloists including Jean-Yves Thibaudet,  Nikolai Lugansky, Alisa Weilerstein, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Sergey Khachatryan, Jonathan Biss and Alexander Melnikov.

Highlights of Payare’s 2015-16 season include the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, NDR Sinfonieorchester Hamburg, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Czech Philharmonic, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Zurich Opera Orchester and the Bamberg Symphony; as well as return visits to the Cincinnati Symphony, CBSO, Rotterdam and Oslo Philharmonic orchestras. With the Ulster Orchestra, as well as continuing their Beethoven and Tchaikovsky cycle and exploring a variety of repertoire, he will lead the players in a busy schedule of education and outreach projects in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland.

In July 2012, Payare was personally invited by his mentor, the late Lorin Maazel, to conduct at his Castleton Festival in Virginia. This led to a close association and he was recently honoured to accept the position of Principal Conductor and returned to Castleton in July 2015 to conduct performances of Gounod 'Romeo and Juliette’ and Beethoven Symphony No 9. He also enjoys a close relationship with the celebrated Polish composer, Krzysztof Penderecki, who invited Rafael to conduct part of his 80th birthday concerts in Warsaw, alongside such conductors as Valery Gergiev, Charles Dutoit, Leonard Slatkin and Jiri Belohlavek.

 Born in 1980 and a graduate of the celebrated El Sistema in Venezuela, Payare began his formal conducting studies in 2004 with José Antonio Abreu and has conducted all the major orchestras in Venezuela, including the Simón Bolívar Orchestra, both in Caracas and in Toronto as part of their 2009 Canadian tour. Having also served as Principal Horn of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, he took part in many prestigious tours and recordings with conductors including Giuseppe Sinopoli, Claudio Abbado, Sir Simon Rattle and Lorin Maazel. As an assistant conductor, he has worked under Claudio Abbado for his performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony with the Simón Bolívar Orchestra and in September 2012 was invited by Daniel Barenboim to assist on his production of Siegfried at the Berlin Staatsoper.

In May 2012 he was awarded first prize at the Malko International Conducting Competition

This biography is updated regularly. Please contact Terry Shew or Olivia Patton for the most recent version and destroy any previously held material.  All editing should be approved by Askonas Holt

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Brahms, Mozart & Dvorak

Concert: 12 May 2016

(NAC Orchestra/Nicola Benedetti), National Arts Centre, Ottawa

"Conductor Payare handed the work’s complexities with precocious assurance and the result was an immediate standing ovation, as well as very conspicuous approval from the players on stage. Overall he gets a big sound from NACO, though it was never harsh or forced. He cajoles genuine pianissimos when needed though clearly favors a rich, warmly frothy sound." Charles Pope Jr., ConcertoNet.com, 12 May 2016

Berlioz, Prokofiev & Tchaikovsky

17 February 2016

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Alisa Weilerstein, Symphony Hall Birmingham

**** Payare was thoroughly involved, conducting with his whole body, oozing dance-like rhythms even to the tips of his hair!  Irresistible momentum propelled the music all too soon to its conclusion in a blaze of glory. Katherine Dixson, Back Track, 19 February 2016

Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov & Mussorgsky

CONCERT: 8 October 2015

Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall, London

****"The conductor, Rafael Payare, did well to provide strongly motivated orchestral playing, while seeming at one with his soloist. On either side of the Rachmaninov he and the Philharmonia gave full-blooded performances of Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture Romeo and Juliet and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition — sure-footed, colourful, if not detailed enough to count as distinguished."
Richard Fairman, Financial Times, 11 October 2015
"Finally the Philharmonia made an exhibition of itself with another tour through Mussorgsky’s always-open gallery, courtesy of Maurice Ravel. This turned out to be the consistent highlight of the concert.... Overall this was a vividly characterised and subtly shaded account that found Payare secure of route and painterly imaginative.  This was a long evening, but the Philharmonia seemed tireless and keen to do its collective best for Payare, Viktor Hartman’s canvases and artefacts freshly minted, further aided by Simon Haram’s sepia-tinted saxophone solo in ‘The Old Castle’ and Byron Fulcher’s prime contribution on euphonium in ‘Bydlo’, itself properly lugubrious. The performance closed with a spacious and ennobled ‘Great Gate of Kiev’, the crowning glory of a magnetic reappraisal of music so familiar."
Colin Anderson, Classical Source, 9 October 2015
*****"This is the Philharmonia’s 70th-anniversary season. They and their exciting young conductor Rafael Payare, an El Sistema alumnus – a name to watch – played with vigour and warmth. The partnership with Trifonov felt ideal."
Fiona Maddocks, Guardian, 11 October 2015

Berlioz, Bruch & Rimsky-Korsakov

6 August 2015

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia Festival

The program, which opened with "The Roman Carnival" by Berlioz, concluded with Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade," a well-known piece packed with enchanting melodies. We have all heard this large orchestral work multiple times. But it came to life anew with Payare on the podium. It was as if this young man, who received his musical education from his country's remarkable El Sistema project, had been conducting it all his life and as if the orchestra members were intoxicated with its beauty. It was as if we were hearing it for the first time.
Where to begin? The strings were silken, sometimes just audible, sometimes gloriously full. The brass was not only loud, but rich, the woodwinds were bewitching. But the most stunning aspect of that performance was the dynamic range this vibrant conductor drew out of this magnificent ensemble. Payare's movements were vigorous and vivid; he used every muscle to communicate with his players.
He would hush them nearly to silence, then challenge them to maximum volume. At times it seemed as if he were dancing. The musicians' enthusiasm for him was obvious, and they played their hearts out for him. Concertmaster Robert Chen had several solos, each more virtuosic than the next. It was if they were on tour and determined to show a whole new population what they could do. It was riveting.
None of this was lost on the pavilion audience, which gave the conductor three curtain calls, hooting and cheering and even hanging around a bit — remarkable for an audience which often seems to be in a race to the parking lot. It was obvious he would be warmly welcomed should he return.
The Chicago Symphony is known as one of the top orchestras in the world. Under Payare's baton Aug. 6, the orchestra certainly lived up to that billing. Dorothy Andries, Chicago Tribune

Wagner, Elgar & Shostakovich

21 May 2015

Ulster Orchestra, National Concert Hall Dublin

I experienced a real shock to the system last Thursday. The Ulster Orchestra was at the National Concert Hall for a first Dublin appearance at the end of its first season under their new, highly regarded principal conductor, Rafael Payare.
The concert opened with the prelude to Act III of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, expressively rounded, beautifully calm but always moving forward, tonally alluring but not in a demonstrative way. In short, the performance was all about the music, not about the playing. Michael Dervan, The Irish Times

Beethoven, Sibelius & Rimsky-Korsakov

20 February 2015

Munich Philharmonic, Gasteig, Munich

Wenn das System ein solches Naturtalent wie den venezolanischen Dirigenten Rafael Payare entdecken kann, hat es zumindest echte musikalisch Erfolge aufzuweisen.

Er ist zweifellos ein brillanter Dirigent: Sein Schlag ist elegent und dennoch straff die Philharmoniker stimmen perfekt zusammen, Eitelkeiten finden in dem völlig zweckmässigen Dirigat keinen Platz.

Vor allem aber ist ein Payare ein Musiker von wahrlich seltener Substanzhaftigkeit. Ein einziges Stück vermag das zu demonstrieren, Ludwig van Beethovens dritte Leonoren Ouvertüre. Payare hat Mut zu einem gemessenen, stengen Tempo, das zu einer angenehmen Schwere des Klangs führtund es den Philharmonikern ermöglicht, so reich auszuklingen wie nicht alle Tage. Auch in Nikolak Rimsky-Korsakows "Scheherazade" herrscht ein kluges, besonnenes Musizieren vor, das im Populären viele oft ungehobene Schätze aufdeckt. Die Philharmoniker sollten Rafael Payare unbedingt möglichst stark an sich binden. Michael Bastian Weiss, AZ Kulture
Mit den Münchner Philharmoniker unter der Leitung von Rafael Payare schafft der knapp 30-Jährige in der Philharmonie etwas Seltenes: Trotz seines ausladenden emotionalen Gestus ist seines Haltung so durchdacht, dass es nie nach der effektgierenden Reproduktion von Gefühlen klingt.
Rita Argauer, Suddeutsche.de
**** Payare grenzte die verschiedenen Themen dynamisch ab, um die dramatische Wirkung zu betonen. So wirkte die Ouvertüre mal feierlich, mal lyrisch verträumt, und deutete auf das folgende Programm voraus. Bereits hier bewiesen die Philharmoniker ihre dynamische Flexibilität und die stimmige Balance zwischen den unterschiedlichen Registern, die gerade an den fragilen Piano-Stellen perfekt miteinander interagierten.
David Renke, Bachtrack

Strauss, Maazel & Tchaikovsky

17 January 2015

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Musikverein, Vienna

Er umarmt den Klang er liebt Monumentalitat und grobes Klangtheater, gewaltige Steigerungen und detailreiche Inszenierung: gestaltete er das Werk wie ein impressionistisches Gemalde: poetische, in fein schimmernden Farben, voll Oscar-Wilde-Marchenatmosphare. Da animierte er die Wiener zu einer  lautstarken, aber hinreibend effektvollen Wiedergabe, bei der er mit Riesengebarden gleichsam die Klangwelt umarmen wollte. Bis ins Detail legt er Strukturen offen, modelliert die kunstvollen Einwurfe Tschaikowskys  mit Fingerspitzengefuhl und sorgt fur hinreibende Steigerungen und packende Klangexplosionen. Das Publikum feierte Payare mit lautem Jubel.
Kronen Zeitung


Symphony No.4: 31 October 2014

UIster Orchestra, Ulster Hall, Belfast

**** Conductor Rafael Payare elicited an intense, at times electrifying performance, galvanising the players with his whippy, athletic podium presence. Terry Blain, Belfast Telegraph
Despite all of Tchaikovsky’s gestures – the outpourings, the climaxes which sit on the edge of being too much – Payare imbues this music with a sincerity that balances the Romantic exaggerations, blurring the false distinction between the stage and the platform music. He permits his players room to let their phrases blossom and bloom, and in so doing engenders a feeling that everyone is in this together – including the audience. Philip Hammond, Culture Northern Ireland


Scheherazade: 9 October 2014

London Symphony Orchestra, Barbican Centre, London

**** Payare is after all something of a sorcerer’s apprentice himself.... But you needn’t expect flash and flamboyance. Payare conducts from memory, with fine, economic gestures moulded by long, slim hands. He exploited every nudge, nod and wink in Dukas’s score, but his pacing was steady enough to ensure that every orchestral voice was audible. This was a performance of considered thought and analysis. So was his Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade. The fantasy tales were told with a long-sighted vision of what held them together Hilary Finch, The Times
There was much to admire in Payare’s from-memory conducting of Dukas and Rimsky-Korsakov...potency was immediately established...Come the laconic use of bassoons to launch the fast section, Payare’s considerate pacing was very well-judged (reminding of Ernest Ansermet’s Suisse Romande recording, my introduction to the piece), marrying well articulacy and direction as he skilfully ratcheted up tension to when the sorcerer appears to put right the flooding haplessness of his apprentice, gloweringly brought off... Rimsky’s Scheherazade, music so easy to maul and exaggerate, was further evidence that Payare has a wholeness of vision of the music he conducts. His was a symphonic and sonorous conception, unfailingly shapely, if more dramatic-art than festive scene-painting...the LSO was very responsive to Payare’s concern for detail, dynamics, colour and articulation...this was a fresh, respectful yet individual interpretation, thought-through and full of Eastern Promise. Colin Anderson, Classical Source
Payare is clearly a great conductor. Penny Horner, BachTrack

Schumann & Mahler

Manfred Overture & Symphony No.1: 4 July 2014

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Auckland Town Hall

The lithe young Venezuelan conductor kept it [Schumann, Manfred Overture] firmly on track, creating drama through impressively sonorous playing, with rushing violins flaring up in storm-tossed crescendos...Early on, underlined by his endless athletic body language, Payare wove intriguing musical textures [Mahler, Symphony No.1]. Themes did not always have their expected precedence while dramatic touches included an eerie stillness that erupted into timpani thunder. The dance of the second movement set off raw and rustic, but its trio had just the right leavening of Viennese gemutlichkeit. The final movement began with what Mahler described as a cry from the wounded heart, as Payare caught the many degrees of light and shade leading to the resilient major key victory. William Dart, The New Zealand Herald


Scheherazade: 1 May 2014

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Hall, Birmingahm

**** The brilliance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestration for Scheherazade – he even makes the bassoon sound beguiling – means that it easily becomes a series of discrete beautiful moments. It’s to the credit of up-and-coming Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare that while the incidental orchestral felicities were all in place there also was a strong narrative thrust to this exotic fairytale suite...The Ulster Orchestra snapped up the 33-year-old as its chief conductor for next season – it looks like a shrewd signing. Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post

Concert: 2 April 2014

Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Helsinki Music Centre

Rafael Payare is a 33-year-old Venezuelan conductor who has shot like a comet to international acclaim...Super-talented Payare has a phenomenal memory: he conducted Shostakovich’s great tenth symphony from memory – as he did the whole programme. Payare conjured forth a tragic and pessimistic basic mood in the long first movement, effectively brutalised the themes in the build-ups and unleashed a feeling of terror. The young Payare was probably not thinking about the terrors of Stalin’s regime. For him, the work is undoubtedly first and foremost a universal symphonic drama the first movement of which leads, surprisingly as it were, from dark anguish to the sparking joy and humour of the finale.The composer himself described the Scherzo as the portrait of an evil tyrant. In Payare’s hands, the short movement was a wild vortex of flaming life forces... Payare was in sovereign command of the symphony’s wide formal span with all its contrasts. He conducts with broad and precise gestures, and none of the diva’s mannerisms. His attitude to the music and musicians seems to be one of humility...Payare infused Brahms’s Tragic Overture with dynamic energy and a rich, glowing sound. Hannu-Ilari Lampila, Helsingin Sanomat

Concert: 4 October 2013

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Music Hall Cincinnati

Making his debut with the CSO was guest conductor Rafael Payare. Just 33, Payare led with total assurance...Payare who led the Sibelius Symphony from memory, had both the orchestra and the audience in his corner all evening. Winner of the 2012 Malko International Conducting Competition in Copenhagen, he conducts with sweeping gestures and a precise and expressive left hand. The CSO musicians responded to him naturally and gave him their finest playing. The audience seemed rapt and during silences in the music you could hear a pin drop in the hall. Mary Ellyn Hutton, Cincinnati.com


Symphony No.5: 14 July 2013

Castleton Festival Orchestra, Castleton Festival

Rafael Payare conducted a stormy version of Mahler's 70-minute Fifth Symphony...The Castleton Festival Orchestra, conducted by rising star Payare, was unbelievable in the Mahler...Payare led them in probing the mournful landscapes of the funeral march..the rondo finale transfixed the audience with its breathtaking virtuosity in conveying the music's ambiguous sense of triumph and equally fervent proclamation of joyous abandon. Cecelia Porter, The Washington Post
The young conductor was just unbelievable...the wild-haired, expressive and intensely, joyously focused 33-year-old Venezuelan horn player turned conductor Rafael Payare...It was so evident that Payare loved the music, and he conveyed that so well to the orchestra - he turned on those young musicians, and they gave one of the best performances they've ever given...Payare flowed across the orchestra. When the violins lifted their instruments, he lifted their instruments. Payare conducted without a score, much like his infinitely more seasoned sponsor Maazel does, and returned four times to stand with the orchestra for an also-standing crowd. Roger Piantadosi, Rappahanock News


Concert: 22 March 2013

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Lauréat du concours de direction Nicolai Malko de Copenhague, le jeune homme témoigne d’une assurance et d’une technique de direction infaillibles. Il cerne parfaitement les caractéristiques de l’ouverture de Leonore n°1 de Beethoven avant d’emporter l’adhésion du public dans la Symphonie n°7. En dépit de l’effectif orchestral sollicité en tutti, le chef conserve un élan interprétatif et une incroyable clarté dans la mise en avant des thèmes de l’œuvre. Peu de chefs peuvent proposer une telle assurance et une telle maîtrise. Agé de 32 ans, Payare est certainement promis  à un bel avenir, il est bien plus qu’un clone de Dudamel, et il possède déjà : la fraîcheur de l’inspiration et la rigueur de la direction. Pierre-Jean Trivot, Resmusica

Concert: 23 May 2012

Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Copenhagen

With his thick curls, instant charisma and arresting smile – not to mention the fact that he’s worked with Claudio Abbado and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra – comparisons with Gustavo Dudamel are inevitable.
But Venezuelan Rafael Payare, who was crowned the winner of Copenhagen’s renowned Malko Competition this month, has his own style, more carefully measured and exacting than his wildly popular countryman.

Taking to the stage at the Malko finals on 12 May, the 32-year-old led the Danish National Symphony Orchestra with passion and flair.

Conducting the prelude to the second act of Carl Nielsen's opera Saul and David and the first movement of Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony, it was clear he also captivated the huge audience that had packed into the stunning concert hall of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR).
Clare Wiley, International Arts Manager