Rafael Payare takes up the baton in Ulster this week

Author: Andrew Mellor

The Ulster Orchestra seem pretty excited to have bagged you as their new Chief Conductor starting this week…
We had a very good connection when I was there last October, not the sort that happens very often. It’s a nice sized orchestra and they are willing to keep improving and developing; when they started to discuss a Beethoven and Tchaikovsky cycle – and later on Brahms – I said yes, let’s do it!

You’re starting with Beethoven’s Ninth, quite a statement…
It’s a piece about everything that’s supposed to be good in this world, so I thought it was a nice statement: we’re going to start this wonderful journey together with the orchestra with the right foot, and with a lot of joy.

Will you be looking to change the Ulster Orchestra’s sound in any way?
That’s something we’ll work on together; it’s not only about how they play and it’s not only about how I conduct, and that’s the beautiful thing. We’ll develop together and we’ll never reach the end – it can just get better and better. Like all the UK orchestras their sight-reading is fantastic, so you have the first run-through and it’s like you’ve already had five rehearsals. With that you can really go into artistic detail to make the performance more interesting and more unique – that’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to.

Then it’s on to the Vienna Philharmonic in January – quite a serious bunch…will you be nervous?
Well, it’s the Vienna Philharmonic – it’s an Everest for any conductor. I wouldn’t say ‘nervous’, but I will be really, really looking forward to working with them and I just want to connect, because when you get a connection many great things can happen. Lorin Maazel told me that this is an orchestra you can really ‘flow’ with; some orchestras you almost have to over-conduct – particularly festival orchestras where the players aren’t together all the time – but the Vienna Philharmonic, he said, you flow with them, you almost dance with them. And of course they have this beautiful sound with their distinctive oboes and clarinets and Viennese horns, it’s just a completely different thing.

It seems fitting that you’re conducting a piece by Maazel…he also chaired the jury at the Malko Competition that you won in 2012…
These concerts were going to be conducted by him, so now that he has gone they will be a kind of memorial to him, which is why we’re keeping that piece on the programme. It’s a beautiful work [The Giving Tree] with solo cello and narrator, full of wonderful colours and orchestration. I’m also conducting Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, which was the piece I did in the Malko final…

…I was also there when you won the Malko final – I’ve been meaning to ask, had you ever seen Lumbye’s Champagne Gallop before you suddenly had to conduct it as your prize? It didn’t look like it…
That’s completely true! I had no idea. When they gave me the trophy, there was a baton inside it. I turned to Antonio [Méndez], who came second, and said ‘do you have a baton inside your trophy?’ Well, he didn’t, and then they said ‘right, you have to conduct this, it’s a surprise’. But the orchestra was great and the concertmaster really helped me out!

Back to music you’ve already agreed to conduct: Scheherazade with the LSO in a few weeks, another debut…
I’m really, really lucky to have that coming up and am so looking forward to it. We’re going to have lots of fun at that concert, I can hardly put it into words… Scheherazade has beautiful orchestration, beautiful solos and many things for each section of the orchestra – and this is the LSO we’re talking about! Similarly The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, so much colour and a real narrative.

Sounds like fun! Can you ever call up your chums Gustavo Dudamel and Diego Matheuz and ask for advice before making a debut with orchestras like these? Do you ever get to see them?
Ah…yes I know Gustavo very well and Christian [Vásquez] and Diego also, we were all in the Venezuelan National Children’s Orchestra in the mid 90s. We talk of course, but because we’re friends, we tend not to talk much about conducting. Maybe if we’ve got big concerts coming up, and we’ll try to attend and support each other, but when we get together we talk about normal things, like whose winning the football game, or where to go for dinner…or if we should forget dinner and just go to the beach!

Opening concert: 19 October 2014, 19.45

STRAUSS Till Eulenspiegel
PENDERECKI 3 Chinese Songs, for baritone and orchestra
BEETHOVEN Symphony No.9

Ulster Orchestra
Belfast Philharmonic Choir

Rebecca Evans, Soprano
Catherine Carby, Mezzo Soprano
Bryan Register, Tenor
Stepah Loges, Bass-Baritone

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