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Rafael Payare: Music as the Breath of Life


In wide demand by prestigious orchestras everywhere, this charismatic Venezuelan conductor will become Music Director Designate for the upcoming season. He will become the 9th Music Director in the history of the OSM and will lead his first concert in this role in the 2022-2023 season. In recent years, the Orchestra has invited him to lead several performances at the Maison symphonique as well as at Festival de Lanaudière where the breadth of his conducting gifts has shone time and again. Artist-in-Residence with the OSM* during the 2020–2021 season, Rafael Payare travelled with his family to Montreal to conduct three concerts scheduled for broadcast in January and February.

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From Horn to Orchestral Conducting

Rafael Payare was born in Venezuela in 1980. He began music studies at the age of 14 in the celebrated music education program El Sistema, where he took up the French horn, perfecting his instrument to the point of becoming Principal Horn with the prestigious Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra. A visit by Giuseppe Sinopoli fascinated Payare, who saw this conductor’s gift for obtaining what he wanted from the musicians without speaking so much as a word of Spanish. His interest in the conducting profession was ignited…

Bridging Europe and the Americas

In 2004, he began his training as a conductor under José Antonio Abreu and was soon leading orchestras throughout Venezuela, including the Simón Bolívar Orchestra on tour to Canada in 2009. The year 2012 was pivotal: Payare was awarded First Prize in the Malko International Conducting Competition, propelling his international career. He served as Chief Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra from 2014 to 2019 before beginning his tenure as Music Director of the San Diego Symphony in the fall of 2019.

In Perfect Harmony with the Cello

Rafael Payare has been married to solo cellist Alisa Weilerstein since 2013. Since both artists want to spend as much time together as possible, they often share the stage for concerto performances. This will be the case in January when Alisa Weilerstein performs Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto! Bridging their respective origins, the two artists share their time between Caracas and Berlin.

Precision, Sensitivity, Charisma

Rafael Payare cites Argentinian conductor Carlos Kleiber as a role model, with good reason. Like Kleiber, Rafael Payare is endowed with exquisite musical sensitivity fully embodied in performance, his conducting technique formidably fluid and precise. With such finesse and dedication to his art, Rafael Payare’s future continues to be very bright indeed … and his residency with the OSM will enable us to deepen our knowledge of his artistry in three concerts to be broadcast in the coming weeks. The first of the three will be presented this Sunday, January 10, and can be viewed free of charge. The next Music Director of the OSM will conduct Berlioz’ Roman Carnival and Brahms’ Symphony no.1 in C minor, op. 68.