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Conductor Profiles

Some of the fantastic artists we are privileged to have a relationship with

Rafael Payare


“Undoubtedly a brilliant conductor of truly rare substance." Michael Bastian Weiss - AZ Kultur - 25 February 2015

Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare's profound musicianship, technical brilliance and charismatic presence on the podium has elevated him as one of the most sought after young conductors, working regularly with the world's leading orchestras. In September 2014, he was appointed Chief Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, with whom he made his Proms debut in August 2016. In October, it was announced that his contract with the Ulster Orchestra would be extended for a further two years and that he would resume the title of Music Director in recognition of his rapport with the players and the outstanding impact that he has made on the Orchestra. In February 2018 it was announced that Rafael will become the next Music Director of the San Diego Symphony from the 2019-20 season.

In 2018/ 19, his featured series 'Composers and the State' will explore the work of Shostakovich and Strauss. Both were war-time composers and giants of the twentieth century, but they had very different life experiences during the Second World War. Shostakovich remains forever fixed in the public imagination for his picture as a fireman fighting the blaze at the Leningrad Conservatory, demonstrating his unerring commitment to his fellow man. Strauss, an older man, sought a quieter life. He wasn’t a member of the Nazi party and it isn’t clear what drove his earlier tolerance of the regime. Taking an official position offered by the government seems to have been motivated by an attempt to protect his Jewish daughter-in-law. From different backgrounds, both composers wrote music of exceptional intensity and humanity. Payare and the Ulster Orchestra are proud to bring this massive cycle of Shostakovich and Strauss to Northern Ireland, starting on the 2018/19 Season's opening night, when he is joined by his wife, internationally-renowned cellist Alisa Weilerstein, to perform Strauss's Don Quixote and Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony.

Alisa and I have loved performing in Belfast through the years and are thrilled about bringing Cervantes’s eponymous anti-hero to musical life, creating a complete contrast to the raw depiction of Stalin at his worst in the famous scherzo of the 10th Symphony. 

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 his Castleton Festival in Virginia. This led to a close association and, in July 2015, he was honoured to accept the position of Principal Conductor of the Castleton Festival. In the summer of 2015, he conducted performances of Gounod 'Romeo and Juliette’ and a performance of Beethoven Symphony No 9 in memory of Lorin Maazel.

Born in 1980 and a graduate of the celebrated El Sistema in Venezuela, 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 Giuseppe Sinopoli, Claudio Abbado, Sir Simon Rattle and Lorin Maazel.

Jac van Steen

Principal Guest Conductor

Jac van Steen has conducted the Ulster Orchestra many times over the years and their important musical relationship was formally recognised in 2014 when Jac agreed to become the Orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor, bringing his international experience to Northern Ireland at a critical time in the Orchestra’s history.

Within his first few weeks as Principal Guest Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra, Jac van Steen’s adaptability was in evidence in the concert hall, conducting the opening perfomance of the 2014 Ulster Bank Belfast Festival before hosting a week of conducting masterclasses for emerging conductors. This culminated in him presenting a very special Ulster Orchestra lunchtime concert, featuring the winning participants.

In November 2014 Jac van Steen was conductor for a unique cross-border collaboration between the Ulster Orchestra and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, marking the centenary of World War One with a performance of Britten’s War Requiem (the first Belfast performance in over 30 years). This ambitious undertaking brought together the two orchestras, soloists, two conductors, the Belfast Philharmonic Choir, Leeds Philharmonic Chorus and the Girl Choristers of St Anne’s Cathedral for a sell-out performance in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.

“Jac van Steen masterfully conducted this massed musical array… the sandstone walls reverberated with the stark impact of Britten’s uncompromising music… there was a pervasive feeling of rapt attention from the audience. To experience a work of this magnitude is incomparable. Five Stars.” – Belfast Telegraph

Jac van Steen was born in The Netherlands and studied orchestral and choral conducting at the Brabants Conservatory of Music. Since participating in the BBC Conductors Seminar in 1985, he has enjoyed a very busy career, conducting the leading orchestras in The Netherlands, the UK, Switzerland and Germany. He has held the posts of Music Director and Chief Conductor of the National Ballet of The Netherlands, the orchestras of Bochum and Nuremberg, the Staatskapelle Weimar, and the Opera and Philharmonic orchestras of Dortmund, Musikkollegium Winterthur (Switzerland). He was Principal Guest Conductor for several years of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and currently holds the same position with both Prague Symphony Orchestra (since 2013) and the Ulster Orchestra.

Jac van Steen made his début with Opera North in 2013, conducting Britten’s Peter Grimes. Other highlights in that same year were his concerts with the Philharmonia Orchestra, both on tour and at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, and his débuts with the Vienna Volksoper conducting Loriot’s Wagner’s Ring in One Evening and at Garsington Opera (Intermezzo). 2015/16 saw him in the UK for engagements with various British orchestras including the Philharmonia, the City of Brimingham Symphony Orchestra and, of course, the Ulster Orchestra. He also returned to Opera North for Così fan tutte and to the Vienna Volksoper to conduct a new production of Don Giovanni.

Jac van Steen has participated in many recordings for the BBC, as well as live broadcasts of his concerts. He has also made a substantial number of CD recordings with various orchestras on Dabringhaus & Grimm, SOMM, Bridge Records and NMC, among others.

Besides his activities as a conductor, he is dedicated to teaching and is Professor of Conducting at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague, where he has recently developed his brainchild: the National Masters for Orchestral Conducting (NMO) which gives young conductors the chance to work with the best Dutch orchestras. He also regularly works with the Royal Northern College of Music and Chetham’s School of Music (Manchester) as well as the Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Music (London).

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