Rafael Payare

Music Director, San Diego Symphony
Music Director Designate, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (from September 2021)
Principal Conductor, Castleton Festival
Honorary Conductor, Sinfonietta Cracovia

© Henry Fair


The 20-21 season marks Rafael Payare’s second season as Music Director of San Diego Symphony and already their relationship has been recognised as one of the most dynamic in North America. He has also recently been announced as the next Music Director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal where he will take the title of Music Director Designate from September 2021 and will commence as Music Director from the 22-23 season for an initial period of 5 years. His profound musicianship, technical brilliance and charismatic presence on the podium has elevated him as one of the most sought-after conductors. He was Principal Conductor and Music Director of the Ulster Orchestra from 2014 – 2019 with whom he appeared twice at the BBC Proms in 2016 and 2019. The Orchestra recently named him Conductor Laureate in recognition of his vast artistic contribution to the Orchestra and City of Belfast during his five year tenure.

A highlight of the 20-21 season will include a live recording of Strauss Don Quixote with the Philharmonia Orchestra for the Pentatone label with his wife – the cellist – Alisa Weilerstein. Other highlights during the current season will include North American debuts with the Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony Orchestra as well as a return to the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal for a two-week residency. In Europe, he will debut with the Orchestre National de France in Paris and will return to the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Dresden Philharmonie and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Soloists with whom he has enjoyed collaborations include Daniil Trifonov, Frank Peter Zimmerman, Gil Shaham, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Nikolai Lugansky, Christiane Karg, Alisa Weilerstein, Nikolaj Znaider, Piotr Anderszewski, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Sergey Khachatryan, Emmanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman and Dorothea Röschmann.

As an opera conductor, he made his acclaimed debut at Glyndebourne Festival in 2019 conducting Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and has conducted Madame Butterfly and La Boheme for Royal Swedish Opera and a new production of La Traviata at Malmo Opera. During the 20-21 season, he will make his debut at the Staatsoper Berlin conducting La Boheme. In July 2012, he was personally invited by his mentor, the late Lorin Maazel, to conduct at his Castleton Festival in Virginia and in July 2015 he was appointed Principal Conductor and conducted performances of Gounod ‘Romeo and Juliette’ and a performance of Beethoven Symphony No 9 in memory of Lorin Maazel.

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. He has conducted all the major orchestras in Venezuela, including the Simón Bolívar Orchestra. 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.

In May 2012, Payare was awarded first prize at the Malko International Conducting Competition.


From The Green Room

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    Powell Hall, St Louis, USA

    with Baiba Skride and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

    “Maestro Payare, a youthful Venezuelan horn player himself, conducted with wisdom and patience. The oversized orchestra at several climactic moments produced tremendous waves of sound followed by sudden silence. Payare held both audience and orchestra at bay until all the reverberations decayed beyond perception, which took longer than I ever remember at Powell —turning (as predicted) the orchestra into an organ and Powell Hall into a cathedral.”

    Eric Meyer, St. Louis Today, 16 February 2020

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    Philharmonie am Gasteig

    with the Munich Philharmonic and Veronika Eberle.


    “Payare und das Orchester waren in Weltklasselaune: Den “Don Juan” tanzte Payare geschmeidig aus, ohne den Überblick zu verlieren, es klang reich, vielfältig und transparent. Die “Romeo und Julia”-Musik entfalteten Payare und die Musiker glanzvoll als hinreißenden vielfarbigen Bilderbogen.”

    Harald Eggebrecht, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 29 November 2019


    “[Payare] erreicht … einen verschwenderischen, an Luxus grenzenden Klang, wie ihn selbst die Münchner Philharmoniker in letzter Zeit nicht immer hinbekommen haben. In neun Nummern aus der Ballettmusik zu „Romeo und Julia“ von Sergej Prokofjew sorgt der Venezolaner mit seiner unmissverständlichen Zeichengebung dafür, dass die Solisten, allen voran das wunderbar zwischen Seriosität und halbseidenem Charme oszillierende Saxophon, sich nach Herzenslust frei entfalten können. Mehr noch, er animiert die Philharmoniker dazu, sich selbst zu verausgaben – und mit glühenden Streichern und übermenschlich ausdauerndem Blech die Philharmonie zum Zittern zu bringen. Phänomenal.”

    Michael Bastian Weiß, Abendzeitung München, 28 November 2019

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    05 Oct 19 San Diego Symphony Season Opening BATES & MAHLER
    Copley Hall, San Diego

    with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra.

    “Payare exhibited wonderful showmanship on the podium, an extrovert who hunkered down and bent at the waist to conduct a passage on the verge of silence, then slowly rose to bring out a crescendo that ended with Payare on the balls of his feet and arms raised high above his head.
    Such gestures are empty unless they translate into heightened performance, which they always did in Payare’s case. The orchestra responded marvelously.”

    Christian Hertzog, The San Diego Union Tribune, 6 October 2019


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    19 May 19 ROSSINI: Il barbiere di Siviglia

    “Rafael Payare’s conducting is just the right blend of precision and panache, prompting a performance full of character from the London Philharmonic Orchestra.”

    **** Hannah Nepil, The Financial Times, 21 May 2019


    “Another, more compelling pleasure is the flair and snap constantly rising from the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare, making his Glyndebourne debut.”

    **** Geoff Brown, The Times, 21 May 2019

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    Barbican, London

    with Dorothea Röschmann and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

    “Payare’s interpretation [of Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche] was both intelligent and exciting; he felt little need to bask in the depiction of Till as priest … Payare brought graphic storytelling, a real sense of narration.
    [In Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder] Payare created waves of sound from his players over which Röschmann narrated. Both came together to find a surprising amount of drama at the close of ‘Sommertage’, the final song…
    Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is familiar territory to many; it needs a fine conductor to bring it fully to life. Payare’s achievement in maintaining detail at climaxes was a reflection of his intelligent, long-visioned reading (he conducted from memory). The first movement was perfectly paced throughout, the long, blanched violin melody identifiably in 4, not 8.
    There is so much to celebrate about the pairing of Payare and the BBC Symphony. They clearly enjoy working with him, as this was them at their very best. He is clearly a highly intelligent musician and this, coupled with his obvious passion, is potentially a dynamite combination.”

    Colin Clarke, Seen and Heard International, 8 December 2018


    “[In Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel] After the strings’ gentle ‘once upon a time’ opening – strictly matter of fact in Rafael Payare’s phrasing – Till peeped round the pantomime curtain with his theme on solo horn and his adventures began. Each was neatly characterised and deftly executed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra players, with Payare cueing them all with precision.

    [In Shostakovich Symphony No.5] Payare was unerring in pacing and balance, such that the music formed a single great arc, with successive entries building towards the xylophone-capped climax with compelling eloquence.
    Whatever the final destination of the Fifth, Payare and the BBC players were excellent guides, and they … will be worth catching when the BBC broadcasts this concert later on.”

    **** Roy Westbrook, Bachtrack, 8 December 2018

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    Maison Symphonique de Montréal

    with Andrew Wan and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

    “Mozart ne nous préparait pourtant pas à la surprise qui s’ensuivait : l’OSM comme je ne l’ai pas entendu depuis longtemps dans une Nuit transfigurée charnelle, prise à bras-le-corps, non comme une analyse spectrale des timbres et harmoniques, mais comme un flux incessant de lumière à travers des branches balayées par la brise et à travers des âmes irradiées par l’amour …

    Quand Rafael Payare a-t-il donc pu répéter ainsi cette variété de nuances et de strates de textures sonores entre les pupitres ? C’est cette multiplicité dans la nature des sons entre les instruments à maints endroits qui amenait une richesse inédite …

    Rafael Payare a fait sa marque dans Beethoven. Son choix surprenant est celui de ne pas opposer les violons I et II, mais la masse compacte de violons qu’il rassemble lui permet de creuser d’autres avenues …

    Car le premier acte d’interprétation est dans le positionnement. Comme Valéry Gergiev, Rafael Payare resserre les musiciens sur la scène. Comme ils sont plus proches les uns des autres, le son de cordes devient plus compact, mais il semble mieux détacher les bois et, surtout les cors …

    De fait, la lisibilité de cette Héroïque fut magistrale. Petite anecdote. Arrivé à la coda du 4e mouvement je me suis dit : « Avec toute cette adrénaline, il ne va tout de même pas réussir, en plus, à faire ultimement ressortir d’un tel tutti le trait de clarinette ! » Eh bien, si. Payare y est parvenu. Bref, tout y était.”

    Christophe Huss, Le Devoir, 28 September 2018

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    01 Jun 18 BRITTEN, MAHLER & SHOSATKOVICH Ulster Orchestra 17/18 Season Closing Concert
    Ulster Hall, Belfast

    with Katarina Karneus and the Ulster Orchestra.

    “Payare was obviously at one with [Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony], confidently conducting without a score. His focus was on the players throughout, directing them passionately and enthusiastically … In the finale the orchestra truly became one with Payare, as they certainly whipped themselves into a frenzy of musical ecstasy. The applause and standing ovation was worth it for that final movement alone …
    It appears that Payare has been taken to the hearts of the Belfast audience. We can only hope this momentum carries through Payare’s last season with the orchestra in 2018/19 … Judging from tonight’s performance this could be his raison d’être, leaving behind a high bar for his successor to carry forward.”

    **** Leighton Jones, Bachtrack, 4 June 2018


    “There is a tradition that the final evening concert of the Ulster Orchestra’s season ends with a dramatic musical flourish, and this is exactly what happened in a jam-packed Ulster Hall on Friday night. Under the direction of its music director Rafael Payare, the orchestra performed a memorable concert of music by Britten, Mahler and Shostakovich…
    [In Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony] The driving force – apart from the composer himself – was maestro Payare, who conducted without a score and who led, cajoled and inspired the players into a truly outstanding performance of one of the world’s greatest symphonies … This will be Rafael’s last season, sadly, so catch this young international superstar while you can.”

    Alf McCreary, Belfast Telegraph, 4 June 2018

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    27 Mar 18 STRAUSS & MOZART
    Royal Festival Hall, London

    with the Royal Philharmonic & Alban Gerhardt.

    “Payare is obviously at home in Strauss, and in these two Dons there was plenty to admire, both in the playing of the RPO and in the confident conducting of complex scores … This Don Juan was light on its feet, powering through the faster and louder passages without any excess baggage, but also alive to the seductive potential of the softer and slower passages. Payare picked out without any undue spotlighting those instances of orchestral colour which stick in the memory …
    Payare and his orchestra offered much to savour [in Don Quixote], from the dream-like languor of the orchestral introduction, with its creamy clarinet and oboe contributions plus violin, trumpet and trombone solos, the throaty baa-baaing of the secure brass in “The Battle with the Sheep” right through to the powerful response of the entire RPO in “The Joust with the Knight of the White Moon”…
    Payare is an athletic and balletic presence on the podium, and every fibre in his body seems to signal style and musicianship. Serious in demeanour yet with Latin intensity, he reminds me of the young Giuseppe Sinopoli, under whom he cut his musical teeth playing in the Simón Bolívar Orchestra.”

    **** Alexander Hall, Bachtrack, 28 March 2018

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    Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh

    with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra & Kirill Gerstein.

    “Friday’s Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert was perhaps the best of the season to date … Mr. Payare’s rapport with the orchestra was a delight to watch; he coaxed an enormous variety of timbre from the musicians, from the intrepid optimism of the opening horn calls in Mr. Carreno’s “Margaritena” to ardent lyricism in the strings during the Rachmaninoff and bright, cut-your-finger sharpness in attacks from the winds throughout Mahler’s opus.
    Mr. Payare led the Pittsburgh premiere of “Margarita” with flair and elegance, demonstrating a strong connection with the orchestra from the first notes.
    The PSO was in fantastic form Friday, and one hopes that Mr. Payare will return in future seasons.”

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 27 January 2018

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    Chicago Symphony Center

    with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Keith Buncke.

    “This emerging maestro is special. Payare … shows not just solid training but a natural musical genius that sets him apart from many a young conductor on the circuit today.
    A few minutes into the [Bernstein Symphonic Dances] … and I was hanging on Payare’s crisp rhythms, clearly delineated voice-leading and lyric sensibility. The wit, depth and sheer bravura that Payare drew forth from this extract of perhaps the quintessential American musical put me in mind of such modern European masterpieces as Janáček’s Sinfonietta and, well, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.
    Payare knew [Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra] cold. He had its inner workings in his fingertips. No broad-brush painting here, no sliding from peak to peak, or going for the big effects and glossing the life-giving intricacies. This was very smart musical leadership, as exacting as it was stylish and imaginative and daring.”

    Lawrence B. Johnson,, 19 January 2018


    “Payare could have been channeling Lenny [Bernstein] himself as he danced, swayed, hopped and lunged his way through this lush amalgam of tunes from the composer-conductor’s greatest hit. Nothing was held back, nothing underplayed … [Payare] secured playing of irresistibly jazzy, finger-snapping energy from the orchestra, with a sizzling solo sax, and brass and percussion going full tilt. “Dance at the Gym” no doubt set off seismographs as far away as Kankakee. Somewhere, the great man must have been smiling.
    The firmness of rhythm and sureness of attack with which he steered the orchestra through Bartok’s complex meter changes and abrupt shifts of sonority betrayed no lack of confidence; nor did one get the sense the orchestra was carrying him through a piece he did not know well. Tempos were well chosen, interpretive choices sensible.”

    John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, 19 January 2018

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    Jacobs Music Center, San Diego

    with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra & Steve Schick.

    “Payare conducted with vigorous dramatic motions, and the orchestra responded by bringing [Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture] romantic themes and stirring gestures to life.
    [Payare] led the orchestra to strong performances that belied his slim and youthful appearance. He was especially impressive in Sierra’s difficult and seldom performed concerto with its shifting harmonies and complex rhythmic changes.”

    Ron Bierman, Broadway World San Diego, 19 January 2018


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    17 Nov 17 DUKAS, RAVEL & BRAHMS
    Orchestra Hall, Minnesota

    with the Minnesota Orchestra & Virginie Verrez.

    “Through Brahms’ sometimes-complex development, Payare was never at a loss as to where he was heading … This concert was an auspicious debut for Rafael Payare in Minneapolis.”

    **** Phillip Nones, Bachtrack, 17 November 2017

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    Philharmonie Berlin

    with Christiane Karg & the Deutsches-Symphonieorchester Berlin.

    “Rafael Payare ist ein energischer Zauberer, ein Poet und Derwisch zugleich. Er kennt kein Pardon, wenn es denn sein muss  – wie in Schostakowitschs Zehnter -, kann aber aber auch zarteste Luftmalereien kreieren wie gleich zu Beginn in der Orchesterbearbeitung von Debussys flirrendem Klavierstück „L’isle joyeuse“.”

    Christiane Peitz, Der Tagesspiegel, 31 October 2017

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    28 May 17 SHOSTAKOVCH, BEETHOVEN & PROKOFIEV Concert: 26 May 2017
    Ulster Hall, Belfast

    with the Ulster Orchestra & Stephen Hough.

    “Building towards the audacious romps of the latter part of [Shostakovich’s Festive] Overture, the orchestra collectively played with verve and volume, spurred on by the ever-zestful Payare.”
    **** Judith Wiemers, Bachtrack, 28 May 2017

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    23 May 17 SCHUBERT Symphony No.9 Concert: 23 May 2017
    Ulster Hall, Belfast

    with the Ulster Orchestra.

    “Under the inspired baton of the Musical Director Rafael Payare, the sheer power of the music was tempered with great lyricism, particularly in the second and third movements, and the Symphony wound its long way in the Fourth Movement to a thrilling finale.”
    Alf McCreary, Belfast Telegraph, 24 May 2017

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    14 Apr 17 SIBELIUS & STRAUSS Concert: 14 April 2017
    Halle aux Grains, Toulouse

    with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse & Benjamin Beilman.

    “Deux musiciens de la jeune génération étaient, ce vendredi 14 avril, les invités de l’Orchestre national du Capitole. Le chef d’orchestre vénézuélien Rafael Payare et le violoniste américain Benjamin Beilman ont ce soir-là galvanisé un public constitué d’habitués de ces concerts mais aussi de nouveaux venus comme le suggèrent quelques applaudissements « hors norme » en cours d’’exécution. Que ces récents adeptes, visiblement heureux de la découverte, soient les bienvenus! … Sa silhouette émaciée, son abondante chevelure, la vivacité de sa baguette, sa direction « chorégraphique » obtient le meilleur de la phalange toulousaine. Voici un chef qui fait sonner l’orchestre de la plus dynamique des façons, dans un bel équilibre sonre des cordes et des vents … Comment ne pas évoquer l’utilisation inspirée des premières mesures du poème symphonique par  Stanley Kubrick dans son film culte de 1968 (déjà !) 2001, l’Odyssée de l’espace. On ne peut toujours pas s’empêcher de frémir à l’écoute de cette stupéfiante entrée en matière. D’autant plus que l’orchestre et son chef maîtrisent ici parfaitement cet immense crescendo, apothéose liminaire qui ouvre le chemin vers les méandres mystérieux de la pensée musicale. Rafael Payare construit cette progression avec un sens aigu de l’architecture. Il sait en outre ménager les équilibres verticaux (bel étagement des plans sonores) et horizontaux (contrastes dynamiques parfaitement négociés).”

    Serge Chauzy, Classic Toulouse, 15 April 2017


    “… offer une captivante leçon de poésie musicale … s’en empire avec une maîtrise rare et deliver avec passion les foisonnements sonores et les brusques emportements qui la structurent … Dans le même élan, l’Orchestre du Capitole aux mains de ce chef charismatique en révèle la dimension symphonique et la profondeur abyssale.”

    Jean-Félix Marquette, Utmisol, 14 April 2017

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    05 Mar 17 SCHOENBERG & MAHLER Concert: 9 March 2017
    Bridgewater Hall

    with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

    “Payare dealt confidently with the almost riotous polyphony of the music [in Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht], negotiating each of the five seamless sections of the work with an assurance and involvement that suggested this is a work close to his own heart … [Mahler’s Fifth Symphony] was full of appropriate sound and fury but Payare gave it a coherence that has eluded some conductors and a sense of ensemble that is only achieved when the sections are listening to each other. For once, this music had a destination: this was a cortège that didn’t just perform the act of mourning but also considered its meaning … Although Mahler planned this work in three distinct parts, the latterday prominence given to its most famous movmenet, the Adagietto, can make it seem like a movement surrounded by a symphony. Payare neutralised any danger of that with a clear-eyed reading that sidestepped sentimentality and merged seamlessly into a rolllicking finale that closed the performance with a jolt. No contemplative pause before the ovations this time: a triumphant evening for Payare and the BBC Philharmonic.”
    **** Richard Ely, Bachtrack, 5 March 2017

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    02 Feb 17 PUCCINI La Bohème
    The Royal Swedish Opera

    “The performance was led by young Venezuelan Rafael Payare who conducted with great enthusiasm, with tempi that were respectful of tradition and of the singers. He unleashed the orchestra to drive the most emotional moments with great expression.”
    Laura Servidei, Bachtrack, 2 February 2017

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    09 Dec 16 KODALY, BEETHOVEN & RACHMANINOV Concert: 9 December 2016
    Usher Hall Edinburgh

    with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra & Lars Vogt.

    “If ever there was an example of how crucial a conductor can be to the success of an orchestral performance, this was surely it. Simply put, Rafael Payare came out and lit a firecracker under the RSNO that burned bright and strong all evening. His vitality, authority and commitment were unflagging and irresistible, and the orchestra responded with consistent, bushy-tailed engagement. A good thing too, for there was no hiding place in this challenging programme. Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta certainly did not allow audience or players to ease themselves in – 15 minutes of intensely varied textures and tempos, deftly negotiated by conductor and ensemble, with guest principal clarinettist Jernej Albreht particularly impressive in his extended solo passages.”
    Martin Kershaw, The Sunday Herald Scotland, 11 December 2016

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    25 Nov 16 Wagner, Oquin, Maazel & Shostakovich Concert: 25 November 2016
    Philharmonie am Gasteig Munich

    with the Muenchner Philharmoniker & Michael Hell.

    “Deutlich mehr anfangen konnte der Maestro aus Venezuela mit Schostakowitschs Fuenfter, deren schluessige Lesart ueber den Gemischtwarenladen der ersten Konzerthaelfte hinwegtroestete. Payare schien keineswegs nur auf Klangschoenheit aus zu sein, sondern verstand es ebenso, den trockenen Sarkasmus herauszukitzeln, mit welchem der Komponist im Schero den Vorgaben des Stalin-Regimes begegnete. Klare Worte statt suesslicher Operettenseligkeit, die im melancholischen Largo ihr konsequentes Pendant fanden.”
    Tobias Hell, Muenchner Merkur (Kultur & Leben), 25 November 2016

    “Am Pult der seinerzeit fruehverwaisten Muenchner Philharmoniker leitet Rafael Payare die Werke seines Kollegen mit grosser Sorgfalt. In Dmitri Schostakowichs Symphonie Nr. 5 d-Moll erweist er sich dem aelteren Zeichengebung dem Orchester ein stabiles Rueckgrat verleiht. Dieses ermoeglicht eine planungsvolle Formgebung bei bedaechtigen Tempi, ein fantasievolles Rubato sowie ausgesucht Pianissimo-Effekte, kurz: einen Musizierstil, der Payare von Maazel hinrechend unterscheidet. Bravo!”
    Michael Bastian Weiss, AZ Kultur, 25 November 2016

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    16 Nov 16 DEBUSSY, SAINT-SAENS & BERLIOZ Concert: 3 November 2016
    Accademia Santa Cecilia Orchestra

    with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia & Luigi Piovani.

    “The clarity of the gesture, the sense of orchestral color and the feeling with the orchestra reveal a director endowed with great natural talent … Payare enhances the brilliant orchestration of Berlioz with changes of color, dynamics, phrasing almost every bar: especially in the final two movements, where Berlioz is unleashed, an execution of this kind is truly prodigious. There is no denying the talent of this director, especially considering it will still mature.”
    Mauro Mariani, Giornale della Musica, 3 November 2016

    “Payare, the young Venezuelan conductor, opened the concert with L’Isle Joyeuse by Claude Debussy, as if dancing on the red podium, his body leaned forward towards the orchestra… and with a nod leaps forward for the attack. The wand in his right hand and the other arm extended as if to support the music. Seven intense minutes: you perceive the drops in the sea, the flights of joyful birds … Rafael directs with his hands and body to the tip of his feet … in a growing finale bubbling with orchestration by Bernardino Molinari.”
    Sara Cacciarini, Culturamente, 16 November 2016

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    21 Aug 16 Hellawell, Haydn & Tchaikovsky BBC Prom 47: 21 August 2016
    Royal Albert Hall

    with the Ulster Orchestra.

    “The Prom ended with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, in many ways a difficult work to bring off satisfactorily (the composer thought so, for he made a cut of 100 bars in the Finale when he conducted the work in Hamburg – a cut that used to be often observed), but Payare’s reading (conducting from memory) revealed beyond any doubt that he not only believes in this work, but also has the penetrating musicianship to prove the composer wrong: this was outstandingly well interpreted and very well played indeed.”
    Robert Matthew-Walker, Classical Source, 21 August 2016

    “Payare opted for a strong final work, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5 in E minor. His intimate knowledge of the work was visible, not just from his conducting of the symphony from memory, but from the multi-faceted, textured account he drew from the orchestra. Payare adopted brisk, spirited tempi in the first movement with gorgeous swelling in the woodwind, and rapt, focussed brass. Particularly noticeable was the intensity of the strings, blooming and then withering with great effect. The aforementioned horn solo was dispatched with controlled ease and the climax of the second movement was built up and released with dramatic force. Payare throughout was an energetic influence, and the Ulster Orchestra responded with technically brilliant playing. Belfast is lucky to still have this talented group.”
    **** Dominic Lowe, Bachtrack, 23 August 2016

    “The big work in the second half was Tchaikovsky’s popular Fifth Symphony. The quality of playing was high throughout, reminding listeners what a valuable cultural asset to Northern Ireland this orchestra is.”
    **** George Hall, The Guardian, 22 August 2016

    “Payare brought the house down with his taut, if unflashy, and well-paced Tchaikovsky, the popular E minor Symphony, hugely enjoyable…Payare’s accompaniment was beautifully light and airy, achieving a balance that few of the many cellists at this year’s Proms have benefited from.”
    Hugh Canning, The Times, 28 August 2016

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    01 Jul 16 Rossini, Mozart & Brahms 30 June 2016
    Herkulessaal Der Residenz, Munich

    with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks & Piotr Anderszewski.

    “Die makellose Technik ist freilich nicht Selbstzweck, sondern tragfähige Grundlage für Payares eigenständige und dennoch werkorientierte Realisierung: Das Tempo ist rasch, doch nicht übertrieben, es wird grundsätzlich durchgehalten, sodass alle Sätze in bezwingender Einheitlichkeit erstehen. Payares unübersehbare Leidenschaft tut somit nie der Brahms’schen Konstruktivität Abbruch, erfüllt diese aber, ohne je ins Manische getrieben zu werden, mit glühender Emotionalität.”
    Michael Bastian Weiß, Abendzeitung Muenchen, 1 July 2016

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    02 Jul 16 Rossini, Mozart & Brahms 02 July 2016
    Regentenbau Bad Kissingen

    with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks & Piotr Anderszewski.

    “Rafael Payare charismatisch zu nennen, wäre eine grobe Untertreibung. Der Mann ist eine Art Zauberer. Muss er wohl sein. Wie sonst könnte er eine vollkommen unerhörte Version einer so bekannten Sinfonie präsentieren? Brahms’ Vierte, als sei sie nach langer Verschollenheit gerade erst wiederentdeckt worden – frisch, ungestüm, sinnlich und doch bis ins kleinste Detail durchdacht und kontrolliert. Wobei Kontrolle möglicherweise nicht das richtige Wort ist.”
    Mathias Wiedemann, Main Post Deutschland, 03 July 2016

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    19 Feb 16 Berlioz, Prokofiev & Tchaikovsky 17 February 2016
    Symphony Hall Birmingham

    with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & Alisa Weilerstein.

    “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

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    12 May 16 Brahms, Mozart & Dvorak 12 May 2016
    National Arts Centre, Ottawa

    with the NAC Orchestra & Nicola Benedetti.

    “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.,, 12 May 2016

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    08 Oct 15 Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov & Mussorgsky 8 October 2015
    Royal Festival Hall, London
    with the Philharmonia Orchestra.
    “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

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    07 Aug 15 Berlioz, Bruch & Rimsky-Korsakov 6 August 2015
    Ravinia Festival

    with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

    “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

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    31 May 15 Wagner, Elgar & Shostakovich 21 May 2015
    National Concert Hall Dublin

    with the Ulster Orchestra.

    “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

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    23 Feb 15 Beethoven, Sibelius & Rimsky-Korsakov 20 February 2015
    Gasteig, Munich

    with the Munich Philharmonic.

    “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,

    “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

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    17 Jan 15 Strauss, Maazel & Tchaikovsky 17 January 2015
    Musikverein, Vienna

    with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

    “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

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    03 Nov 14 Tchaikovsky Symphony No.4: 31 October 2014
    Ulster Hall, Belfast

    with the UIster Orchestra.

    “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

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    10 Oct 14 Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade: 9 October 2014
    Barbican Centre, London

    with the London Symphony Orchestra.

    “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

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    04 Jul 14 Schumann & Mahler Manfred Overture & Symphony No.1: 4 July 2014
    Auckland Town Hall

    with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

    “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

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    01 May 14 Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade: 1 May 2014
    Symphony Hall, Birmingahm

    with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

    “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

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    02 Apr 14 Concert: 2 April 2014
    Helsinki Music Centre

    with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

    “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

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    04 Oct 13 Concert: 4 October 2013
    Music Hall Cincinnati

    with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

    “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,

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    14 Jul 13 Mahler Symphony No.5: 14 July 2013
    Castleton Festival

    with the Castleton Festival Orchestra.

    “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

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    22 Mar 13 Beethoven 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

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    23 May 12 Concert: 23 May 2012

    with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

    “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