Rafael Payare joins the OSM

Richard Burnett

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

Internationally-renowned conductor Rafael Payare will become the new music director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal beginning with the 2022-2023 season.

Payare is currently OSM artist-in-residence and will become music director designate on September 1, taking over from Grammy-winning Maestro Kent Nagano who was music director from 2006 to 2020.

Payare will become the ninth music director in the history of the OSM – recognized as one of the finest orchestras in the world – and the first conductor from South America to hold this position.

“I first conducted the OSM as a guest conductor in September 2018,” says Payare, whose appointment was unanimously endorsed by the OSM selection committee. “I felt a very strong connection with the musicians from the first rehearsal, as if we had known each other for a long time. I felt like I was having a very special, powerful and magical musical experience. I felt a bond and a trust that allowed us to take musical risks, feelings that continued to grow during subsequent rehearsals and concerts.”

The charismatic, flamboyant and youthful Payare, 40, is one of the most sought-after conductors of his generation. Since winning the prestigious Malko International Competition for Young Conductors in Denmark in 2012, he was hired as music director of the Ulster Orchestra from 2014 to 2019, and has been music director of the San Diego Symphony since 2019. The OSM has signed Payare for at least five years.

Payare has also conducted many of the world’s most prestigious symphony orchestras in Berlin, Vienna, London, Munich, Chicago and Paris.

“I’m equally excited about the OSM’s many community initiatives, from free concerts in the parks to the Virée classique and the Orchestra’s extensive educational program,” Payare adds. “This deep-rooted presence in the community fits perfectly with my idea of the social role a symphony orchestra can – and must – play.”

Indeed, community outreach is hardwired into the Venezuelan conductor’s DNA: “I am an alumnus of El Sistema, a music education program launched in Venezuela more than 45 years ago by Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu with the focus and belief that music should be part of everybody’s education and that it should be a right, not a privilege,” Payare says. “As such, I have a deep understanding of the importance of community initiatives to make music accessible to as many people as possible across all social classes.”

The musically and linguistically adept Payare is also learning French so he can more easily communicate with Montrealers in the second-largest French-speaking city in the world.

“I do not yet speak French as well as I would like, but I am working hard to soak up the beauty and nuances of this magnificent language,” says Payare who has been married to American cellist Alisa Weilerstein since 2013. “In addition to the intensive courses I am enrolled in, I can count on an additional demanding teacher, my daughter, who goes to French school in San Diego. Even though she is only four-years-old, she monitors her daddy’s progress very carefully, especially my pronunciation!”

As current OSM artist-in-residence, Payare is conducting three concerts: The January 10 Rafael Payare Conducts Brahms’ First Symphony concert will be webcast for free on medici.tv until April 11; he conducts Charles Richard-Hamelin and Mozart’s Concerto no. 24 in a webcast that streams until February 2;  and Dvořák’s Masterful Symphony no. 7 Conducted by Rafael Payare on February 2 will stream until February 16.

Richard Burnett

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

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