With his innate musicianship, charismatic energy, gift for communication and irresistibly joyous spirit, Rafael Payare is“electrifying in front of an orchestra” (Los Angeles Times). Now in his fourth season as Music Director of California’s San Diego Symphony, the Venezuelan conductor began his tenure as Music Director of Canada’s Montreal Symphony (OSM) in fall 2022. Appointed as Principal Conductor of Virginia’s Castleton Festival in 2015, he is also Conductor Laureate of Northern Ireland’s Ulster Orchestra, where he served from 2014 to 2019 as Principal Conductor and Music Director, making multiple appearances at London’s BBC Proms.
Payare embarks on a high-profile season in 2022-23. He inaugurates his new role as Music Director of the Montreal Symphony with 24 concerts in Quebec and two major international tours, highlighted by the orchestra’s debut at London’s Southbank Centre and its returns to the Vienna Konzerthaus, Brussels’s BOZAR, Washington’s Kennedy Center and New York’s Carnegie Hall. The coming season also brings debuts with the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony, as well as at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; returns to the Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra and Munich Philharmonic; and eight weeks of concerts in the fourth season of his already transformative tenure as Music Director of the San Diego Symphony, where his opening of The Rady Shell, the orchestra’s stunning new open-air venue, wowed the national press last season.
Since winning first prize at Denmark’s Malko International Conducting Competition in 2012, Payare has made debuts and forged longstanding relationships with many of the world’s preeminent orchestras. His U.S. collaborations include engagements with the Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Houston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra, while his notable European appearances include dates with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich and Vienna Philharmonic, which he has led at the Vienna Konzerthaus and Musikverein, on a Baltic tour and at Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.Payare has undertaken concerto collaborations with soloists including Piotr Anderszewski, Emmanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman, Elīna Garanča, Sergey Khachatryan, Gil Shaham, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Daniil Trifonov, Alisa Weilerstein, Frank Peter Zimmermann and Nikolaj Znaider. Also a dedicated opera conductor, he made his celebrated Glyndebourne Festival debut with a 2019 production of Il barbiere di Siviglia, as well as leading Madama Butterfly and La bohème at Stockholm’s Royal Swedish Opera, Tosca at the Royal Danish Opera, Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at the Castleton Festival, and a new production of La traviata in Malmö, Sweden.
Born in Barcelona, Venezuela, in 1980, Payare first discovered classical music at the age of 14, when he began playing French horn in the El Sistema program. After just three weeks he joined the Symphony Orchestra of Anzoátegui, before transferring to the National Children’s Orchestra of Venezuela, with which he toured Europe and the Americas. From 2001 to 2012 he served as Principal Horn of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, taking part in prestigious tours and recordings with conductors including Claudio Abbado, Lorin Maazel, Sir Simon Rattle and Giuseppe Sinopoli, who first inspired Payare to conduct himself. Receiving conducting training from El Sistema founder José Antonio Abreu and from subsequent mentors Maazel and Krzysztof Penderecki, Payare went on to lead all Venezuela’s major orchestras. Today he is himself an inspiration to younger musicians, enjoying a close relationship with London’s Royal College of Music, where he conducts the symphony orchestra each season, and leading youth projects with the Chicago Civic Orchestra, Orchestra of the Americas, and Filarmónica Jóven de Colombia.