Rafael Payare
Rafael Payare. Courtesy San Diego Symphony

Internationally acclaimed Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare will become the San Diego Symphony‘s 13th music director, the orchestra announced Tuesday.

Payare, who is currently music director of the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland, will begin a four-year contract immediately and make his debut at the podium in San Diego in his new role in early 2019.

“When Rafael conducted the orchestra in January there was a deep connection, and the musical bond and obvious potential for their relationship was clear,” said Martha Gilmer, CEO of the symphony. “He has the perfect balance of bringing out the best in the musicians, encouraging and leading them to achieve more than they imagine possible.”

Payare, 38, succeeds Jahja Ling, whose tenure began in 2004-05 and culminated in the 2016-17 season. Beginning in the 2019-20 season, Payare will conduct the symphony for 10 weeks each season, including performances in the Bayside Summer Nights season on the bay.

“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,” he added. “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.

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.

He is one of the most sought-after young conductors, making recent debuts with the Vienna Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, London Symphony and the Chicago Symphony.

Payare is married to American classical cellist Alisa Weilerstein, a 2011 MacArthur Fellow.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.