Meet Our Music Director
The San Diego Symphony's new music director is Rafael Payare.
Rafael Payare began his role as the music director of the San Diego Symphony on July 1, 2019. Payare made his debut as music director designate of the Orchestra in January 2019, when he kicked off the fourth annual San Diego Symphony January festival. His first concerts as San Diego Symphony Music Director will be in October of 2019 at the Jacobs Music Center's Copley Symphony Hall.
As the San Diego Symphony’s music director, Payare – formerly music director of the Ulster Orchestra, principal conductor of the Castleton Festival and honorary conductor of Sinfonietta Cracovia – succeeds Maestro Jahja Ling, whose tenure began in 2004-05 and culminated in the 2016-17 season. Payare will conduct the San Diego Symphony for ten weeks each season, including expected appearances in the Bayside Summer Nights season at the orchestra’s summer home, Bayside Performance Park at Embarcadero Marina Park South.
Since being awarded first prize at the Malko Conducting Competition in 2012, Payare is celebrated as one of the most exciting conductors of his generation and has made debuts with: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic, London Symphony, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, Rotterdam Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony, Oslo Philharmonic, Gothenburg Symphony, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, amongst others.
“When Rafael conducted the orchestra in January 2018 there was a deep connection, and the musical bond and obvious potential for their relationship was clear,” said Martha Gilmer, San Diego Symphony CEO. “I first heard about Rafael Payare because of the unique musical relationship he had with the preeminent conductor, Lorin Maazel. Lorin was an intellectual musician with discerning taste. That he recognized Rafael’s talent and innate musicianship was an affirmation for me of Rafael’s considerable gift. He has the perfect balance of bringing out the best in the musicians, encouraging and leading them to achieve more than they imagine possible. Rafael has a calm assurance on the podium. The musicians spoke of their ability to take artistic risks knowing that he was secure in his own vision and knowledge of the score. I could not be more excited about this musical partnership.”
As San Diego Symphony’s music director, Payare will shape the musical vision for the orchestra moving forward. His international experience and profile will attract the very best orchestral players and guest artists to San Diego. In addition, his own personal story about the important role that music has played in his life supports his vision to reach into the community to find new and enduring ways for the San Diego Symphony to play a greater role in the vitality and vibrancy of the San Diego community and region.
“I had an immediate connection and chemistry with the orchestra,” said Payare. “There was no wall between us, only a desire and eagerness to try new things which I find very exciting. Given what we achieved in just one week together in January, the sky is the limit. I am also inspired to create an atmosphere of inclusiveness in the San Diego region. I feel a special connection to San Diego. I grew up living on the edge of the sea, so I immediately felt at home.”
Born in 1980 and a graduate of the celebrated Venezuelan education program, El Sistema, 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 Claudio Abbado, Lorin Maazel, Sir Simon Rattle and Giuseppe Sinopoli.
In May 2012, Payare was awarded first prize at the Malko International Conducting Competition, and in July 2012, he was personally invited by his mentor, the late Lorin Maazel, to conduct at Maazel’s Castleton Festival in Virginia. This led to a close association and in July 2015, he accepted the position of Principal Conductor of the Castleton Festival. Following Lorin Maazel’s death in July 2014, Rafael was invited to take over his scheduled concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic in January 2015, conducting three concerts at the Vienna Musikverein and the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris in Maazel's memory. Payare returns to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic in June 2018 in Vienna and on tour.
The upcoming season will see return visits to the Munich Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, NHK Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal and NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester. He also makes his debuts with Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchester and Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 2017 he was named Honorary Conductor of Sinfonietta Cracovia and will conduct part of their 25th anniversary concerts in September 2019.
Highlights of his 2018-19 season included return visits to the Philharmonia Orchestra at London’s Southbank, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Bamberger Symphoniker, Danish National Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at London’s Barbican Centre. He also debuted with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Detroit Symphony. Payare enjoys a special relationship with the Sinfonietta Cracovia who recently named him as their Honorary Conductor. 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, Jonathan Biss and Dorothea Röschmann.
In addition to the Vienna Philharmonic, highlights of his 2017-18 season included performances with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, the Czech Philharmonic, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Minnesota Orchestra and his Berlin subscription debut with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin.
“The search committee has been meeting regularly for three years (since 2015) to identify the next exceptional leader for our Orchestra. I am extremely proud of the committee’s expertise and diligence. It has been an exciting process, and we are elated with the result. Rafael Payare is the person we unanimously felt could lift the orchestra artistically. The committee comprised of musicians, board and staff were unified in their selection of Rafael,” said Dr. Warren Kessler, San Diego Symphony Orchestra Immediate Past Chairman of the Board and Chair of the Search Committee.
Samuel Hager, chairman of the orchestra committee, member of the bass section and member of the search committee said: “We were very pleased with the search process, which included significant input from all the members of the orchestra. A strong and meaningful musical connection with the orchestra and the ability to enhance the orchestra’s artistic growth has always been a priority in choosing a music director. Rafael Payare brings a high level of energy and charisma to the podium that really engages the musicians. That coupled with his genuine musicality makes him a very exciting choice. We are really looking forward to working with Payare on the stage and in the community as our new music director.”
Payare becomes the 13th music director in the San Diego Symphony’s 108-year history.
ABOUT RAFAEL PAYARE
The 2019-20 season marks Rafael Payare’s inaugural season as Music Director of the San Diego Symphony. 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 2014-19, 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.
During the 2014-15 season he made his acclaimed debut with the Vienna Philharmonic, conducting concerts at the Vienna Musikverein and Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, and he returned in June 2018 to conduct them at the Vienna Konzerthaus and on a Baltic tour with mezzo soprano Elīna Garanča. Other highlights have included engagements with the London Symphony Orchestra, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Staatskapelle Dresden and Deutsche Symphonie Orchester Berlin.
The current season will see return visits to the Munich Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, NHK Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester. He also makes his debuts with Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchester and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 2017 he was named Honorary Conductor of Sinfonietta Cracovia and conducted part of their 25th anniversary concerts in September 2019.
Soloists with whom Mr. Payare 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, Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman and Dorothea Röschmann.
As an opera conductor, Mr. Payare made his acclaimed debut at the Glyndebourne Festival in 2019 conducting Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, and he has conducted Madama Butterfly and La bohème for Royal Swedish Opera and a new production of La traviata at Malmö Opera. In July 2012 he was personally invited by his mentor, the late Lorin Maazel, to conduct at his Castleton Festival in Virginia; in July 2015 he was subsequently appointed Principal Conductor of that Festival and conducted performances of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette and a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in memory of Lorin Maazel.
A graduate of the celebrated El Sistema in Venezuela, Rafael 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 Simón Bolívar 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 Mr. Payare was awarded first prize at the Malko International Conducting Competition.
The Montréal Symphony Orchestra (Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal) recently announced the appointment of Rafael Payare as their new Music Director beginning in the 2022–23 season. Mr Payare will continue his Music Directorship of the San Diego Symphony, as his contract here has been extended through the 2025-26 season.
Rafael Payare recently conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5. Check it out: