Conductor Rafael Payare bought a house in Berlin last year, but the longest stretch he has stayed in his new home is just one week. One of the talented young conductors in the world currently, the 33-year-old has lost count of the number of concerts he has performed over the last year. “Music, to me, is like breathing. You can’t ask me how many breaths I take in a day. It’s the same with concerts for me. I am constantly thinking about music,” he says. Payare will perform at the 16th season of the Symphony Orchestra of India where he has two concerts — today and on February 21 at National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). He will perform works by Berlioz, Debussy, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, among others.
The conductor shot to fame after winning the prestigious Malko Conducting Competition in 2012. Other than a sizeable cash prize, the winner of the competition gets a chance to perform with 34 leading European orchestras, not to mention the other doors it opens. “I booked a flight ticket with my return date as the last day of the competition. My stay was being paid for by the organisers and I was really hoping I didn’t get eliminated because, if I did, I would have had to pay for my stay,” says Payare. Thankfully, his gamble paid off.
Considering Payare thought he would become a conductor only when he sports a shock of white hair, this rise is even more remarkable. It was his mentor, Venezuelan legend Jose Antonio Abreo, who spotted the talent in him. Abreo is a visionary musician who started El Sistema, a public programme that brings children from all socio-economic classes to play music together.
Known for rescuing disadvantaged young people, the programme has been extremely successful and is attended by five lakh kids across Venezuela. “I am a product of El Sistema. The system gets kids to not just play music, but also teach others and perform.
You are completely immersed in music. When you play classical music, it isn’t just about learning a new instrument, it’s also about listening to what the player next to you is performing. It just makes you a nicer person,” says Payare.
As a budding musician, Payare went to Abreo for advice on how he should plan his solo French horn concerts. Abreo told him that he should become a conductor instead. “He is a genius who can see 15 years ahead,” adds Payare. Conducting young inexperienced musicians as a part of El Sistema has helped Payare develop a keen eye. “When you conduct a professional orchestra everyone knows what their part is. For example, in a youth orchestra, there will be this one bored child who has to play one bar in the entire composition. If you don’t look at him at the precise moment and tell him to play, he will conveniently choose not to. I think that training has made me a better conductor,” he says.