At 14, Rafael Payare had no musical training. Her parents, a cartographer and an elementary school teacher, were “not even a little bit” interested in music, says the new music director-designate of the Orchester symphonique de Montréal.
“Having a CD player in the house was a luxury,” explains the friendly and charismatic 40-year-old chef, who grew up in the coastal town of Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela. It was the brother of Rafael Payare, eight years his senior, who introduced him to classical music as a teenager.
“He was like all big brothers. He stayed in his room and didn’t want to know anything about me, he laughed. He played the bassoon in the orchestra. One day I heard music in his room (theSolemn opening 1812 by Tchaikovsky) which piqued my curiosity. He invited me to come and listen to the orchestra. This is how it all started. ”
One thing leading to another, the teenager joined El Sistema, the famous Venezuelan musical program, founded 46 years ago by José Antonio Abreu, which has inspired many music schools around the world. “El Sistema’s goal is to make music accessible to everyone, regardless of their social class. According to Maestro Abreu, music should be a right, not a privilege. He wanted the quality of education to be even better for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. So that they too have the chance to dream. ”
Rafael Payare remains a child of Sistema, where he spent 18 years and to which he is still very attached.
It will always be a part of me. This is my family, my home, and it will always be like this.
With his shaggy Lenny Kravitz mane, relaxed demeanor and broad smile, Rafael Payare has an undeniable rock star aura. Which probably does not harm his status as a rising star in orchestral conducting. We guess he is embarrassed at the mention of this distinctive feature that many notice. And we feel him sincere when he says that for him, what matters is the music. The rest is just artifice.
It was the conductor Antoine Duhamel (not to be confused with the composer of the Nouvelle Vague) who inspired Payare to adopt the French horn. The conductor likes to say that it was the horn that chose him, and not the other way around. “I got on a wonderful train, which was going very fast! A few months later, I was part of the Simón Bolívar Youth Symphony Orchestra. ”
Rafael Payare obviously had an exceptional musical instinct. A few years later, dazzled by Italian conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli’s ability to modulate the sound of the orchestra without speaking a word of Spanish, he caught the conducting bug.
“I thought I’d like to do this later when I’m old with white hair!” He says. I was mostly focused on getting the most out of my instrument. But Maestro Abreu opened a door for me. ”
At the age of 24, Rafael Payare began studying orchestral conducting with his mentor José Antonio Abreu. Eight years later, in 2012, he won first prize in the Nikolai Malko International Conducting Competition. Since then, it has been requested by all the major orchestras on the planet. Between 2014 and 2019 he was Music Director of the Ulster Orchestra, Belfast. Then, in 2019, he became the Music Director of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra.
It is also in southern California that Payare spent the first months of the pandemic, in the company of his partner, solo cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and their daughter, who will be 5 in March. Since September, they have returned to live in Berlin. “This is where I keep my scores,” he explains.
By chance, I arrived at the entrance of the artists of the Maison symphonique on Wednesday morning, at the same time as the Payare family. The little one, with her cuddly toys, remained good during the rehearsals. “She’s the one in charge!” She’s had us both to herself for months and she’s enjoying it. ”
This is rarely the case. Alisa Weilerstein, who will perform the Cello Concerto by Shostakovich in an OSM concert recording broadcast on February 2, is often on tour, just like her husband. Whenever the opportunity arises, they like to work together. “It’s not just because we’re married,” explains the conductor, “but because we have the same approach to music. ”
Rafael Payare, whose announcement of his appointment as the ninth musical director of the Orchester symphonique de Montréal coincided with the recording of a concert (Brahms, Berlioz) a week ago, has been in Quebec for almost a month. . The family moved to Outremont after two weeks of quarantine on the shores of Lake Memphremagog.
It was magical ! My daughter really likes the movie Frozen, so it was magical for her to be in the forest and the snow.
Since November, Payare has been taking French lessons, three or four hours a day. “At first, it was more difficult, but it’s getting better and better! He said, mimicking the gesture of a drill on his head. In addition to his native Spanish, the chef speaks English as well as the basics of Italian and German.
Music in the skin
” Hello ! Rafael Payare launched to OSM musicians after being greeted with warm applause during rehearsals for a concert that will be webcast on Tuesday. Then they quickly moved on with Mediodía en el Llano by Venezuelan composer Antonio Estévez.
Rafael Payare is slim and slender, both expressive and delicate in his gestures on the podium. Showman subtle, tiptoeing to the sound of music, attentive to all sounds. At one point, I had the impression that he had turned his head when he heard the click of the camera of my colleague photographer Martin.
Payare has music in his skin. He will often repeat during the interview that he “breathes” the music. “It’s the music that speaks,” he tells me, when I talk about the fluidity of his movements on the podium. She’s the one who guides me. It is not considered. I don’t like to see myself leading! ”
He is just as expressive when he gives his directions. Dynamo in tight jeans, shimmering shoes. ¡Muy bien! he said to the musicians, before adding in English that there is a little something missing in the balance of the sound. “You have to play this piece with great joy! ”
We feel it in the connivance, not at all in the confrontation. In the continuity of the relationship with the musicians of Kent Nagano, from which he will officially take over in 2022-2023. Contrary to the authoritarian tone of Charles Dutoit, whom the musicians seemed to fear at the end of his reign. I remember a trip I made with the OSM to Carnegie Hall 20 years ago, and all the innuendo musicians have when they mentioned Maestro Dutoit.
Payare takes great care to deliver the compliments before the reservations, the flowers before the pot. Do you have to be a fine psychologist to become an orchestra conductor?
This is not manipulation! I really believe it. I know because I have been in an orchestra before: the more comfortable we are, the more our imagination can ignite, the more we can achieve magical results. This is my approach to everything.
If he “breathes” music, he exudes an enthusiasm too frank to be feigned. For Montreal (“a magnificent city”), for the Maison symphonique (“a fantastic hall, among the best in the world”), for the musicians of the OSM and their adaptation to health measures (“they make it seem natural, when it is not ”).
“For me, the important thing is chemistry,” he says of his understanding with Montreal musicians, which he has conducted a few times since 2018. When there is a connection with musicians, it jumps to eyes. We have the same reflexes. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s like we’ve known each other for a very long time. It’s hard to put into words. It’s in the air ! ”
A tune we can’t wait to hear, on site, at the Maison symphonique.
Upcoming OSM concerts in webcast under the direction of Rafael Payare. Tuesday January 19: Charles Richard-Hamelin and the Concerto no 24 by Mozart. Tuesday February 2: the Symphony no 7 by Dvořák.