Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare has been announced as the next chief conductor of the Ulster Orchestra. He will take over from JoAnn Falletta from the 2014-15 season, initially on a three-year contract.
Payare, 33, won the Malko Competition for Young Conductors in 2012 having begun conducting studies in Venezuela in 2004 under José Antonio Abreu, founder of the country’s famous ‘El Sistema’ music education system.
He has served as assistant to Gustavo Dudamel and Claudio Abbado and is also a horn player, having been principal horn of the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra before deciding to concentrate on his conducting career.
A further announcement is expected in March to include further details on Payare and the orchestra’s plans for community work, described as ‘an ambitious new programme of community engagement, including plans to introduce the celebrated “El Sistema” programme of social musical education to Northern Ireland’s children in 2014-15’.
Dr Rosa Solinas, chief executive of the Ulster Orchestra, said: ‘Rafael’s exceptional musicality and his natural command and energy on the podium have impressed everyone. We can’t wait to begin working with him in earnest. We think his fresh approach to music-making ‒ not only in the concert hall but throughout the community ‒ is great news for Belfast and for the whole of Northern Ireland.’
Payare said: ‘From the moment I first conducted the Ulster Orchestra in October, the players made a great impression on me. The chemistry was immediate and a very special bond was formed. I am really looking forward to embarking on the wonderful journey that is about to start and I am thrilled to share and be part of the Orchestra’s future!’
Payare acknowledges the influence of other conductors on his career, but Abreu has been his only teacher. ‘The whole thing, why I am here, is thanks to Maestro Abreu,’ he has said.
‘The way he teaches us, the slogan of El Sistema, is “to play and to struggle”. If you want to do something, you work with passion, with commitment, you fight for it ‒ and there is no other way. That made me who I am; I don’t know another way to do it. Maestro Abreu has really been like a father to me. In 1999 I lost my own father, and he was very supportive, he said “You can count on me”.’
The Ulster Orchestra is currently undergoing a period of restructuring after the Northern Ireland’s Arts Council highlighted that the orchestra’s relative inflexibility was a weakness in the context of budgetary pressures. CM reported last year that five members of staff had taken voluntary redundancy.
Northern Ireland’s Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure has stated that the promotion of social and economic equality and tackling poverty and social exclusion were to drive its agenda in future. Payare’s appointment continues moves by Solinas, since her appointment in early 2013, to bring education and outreach work into the heart of the orchestra’s activities. His close relationship with El Sistema could make him an ideal figurehead for the orchestra’s education work.
Payare married MacArthur Foundation grant-winning cellist Alisa Weilerstein in summer 2013.