Venezuelan drops his Irish baton

Venezuelan drops his Irish baton


norman lebrecht

February 22, 2018

Rafael Payare, newly appointed music director in San Diego, has told the Ulster Orchestra he’ll be leaving them next year.

The Ulster Orchestra survives on repeated state bailouts.



  • Richard Craig says:

    during his tenure with the Ulster Orchestra he has produced some fantastic performances from the orchestra,and will be much missed by the loyal audience that the orchestra, but this was bound to happen as Mr Payare has a great future in front of him

    • Brian says:

      Yes, I saw him conduct the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast a couple years back and there was a real palpable excitement in the concert hall. It looks like he’s working to build his career in the U.S. now with his San Diego gig.

      It would be great if someone like Deborah Borda saw fit to give him a chance with the NY Phil sometime soon. He’s already led the Chicago Symphony to auspicious results.

    • Boz says:

      He is no Furtwaengler or H v K for sure

  • Doug says:

    I see his PR agents have already chimed in.

    • otto says:

      Yes, PR agents indeed. I saw him conduct recently in the US and it was simply awful. He has neither technique nor charisma – I left before the symphony concluded.

      • AKP says:

        Had exactly the opposite experience in Edinburgh ,where he was terrific and a big hit in the hall and with the orchestra. By the way I am not his PR agent but if that is how you deal with someone who has an opposing view,go for it.

    • Older and Wiser says:


  • C Porumbescu says:

    I suppose in the same way both London’s big opera houses survives on repeated state bailouts…

    • norman lebrecht says:

      with Ulster, it’s always emergency bailouts

      • Will says:

        Not for a while now, they are on a much more even keel and attracting packed houses.

      • Una says:

        Yes, you’re quite right as the money to be self-funding simply isn’t there. I was a great friend of Havelock Nelson until he and his wife died.

        • Martain Smith says:

          Una.. I knew him too. What a vital force in the music world there – and more so during the terrible days of the “troubles” when chaos prevailed!

    • Una says:

      You can say what you like about London, but the reality in Northern Ireland is that the population is just 1.8 million people with a lot of unemployment and strife. The Republic of Ireland has increased to 4.7 million, with Dublin alone just behind the whole population of Ulster at 1.3 million, and Ireland has always had a different attitude through it’s more equal education system than any part of Britain. London as the capital city of England, not Britain as many Americans think, has a population close to 9 million alone – even before the tourists arrive and make the city the same as the population of Belgium! Money has to go into the coffers for the arts somehow, and if your population of a country is only 1.8 million with England footing a lot of the bill as well, then someone has to do the sums. All I’m saying, and not trying to be clever, is who then is going to go and live in Belfast and conduct the Ulster Orchestra, and uproot themselves from even London or Manchester to live there, and they to find the money?

      • Boz says:

        Classical concerts in Dublin are miles better as they can attract international folk like Andras Schiff, Mutter, Venergerov, Gerharer etc, they would not come North due to lack of funding.

  • Older and Wiser says:

    Newsflash: San DIego also has a rather spotty history.

    OK, so I know it was circulated thru the (apparently London-based) managerial circles recently that San Diego has just received a sizeable financial infusion and that the MD job would be a good catch for any aspiring young director. I didn’t even have to check to know that Payare is managed by a London agency. And one which is known to be exceptionally aggressive in trying to place its emerging conductors in hopeful music directorships (veteran orchestra players sit in silent witness to all the schmoozing when their clients come as guest conductors).

    But that’s recent history. San Diego has also gone bankrupt at least once, and been obliged to “reorganize” under dire circumstances. It’s not a dream job and it’s not exactly a dream city.

    Getting a little tired of these naive, tunnel visioned millenial London mini-empresario types who think that landing a job, any job, in the US is the holy grail and then selling that story to their equally naive millenial conducting clients.

    San Diego might work for Payare. He’s married to US cellist Alisa Weilerstein. It’s heavily Spanish speaking. He’ll be close to South America where IMHO far more interesting opportunities exist. And it’s close to Los Angeles which is actually viable culturally. But make no mistake, it will be a challenge.

    San Diego is NOT a major US conducting post. Nor has it ever fed into one as far as I can recall. It’s a good orchestra, but it’s not nearly as significant a post as a young London manager may be hoping for. It will be a challenge financially and culturally to get the community on board. That’s what history has shown in San Diego. But history is out of the sphere of comprehension for millenials, in London or elsewhere.

    • Robert H Wilkins says:

      I would love to know the source of your “profound” insights into the San Diego Symphony Orchestra status. As just a minor matter, the SDSO has had members go into the following orchestras in the last 14 years:

      Chicago Symphony Orchestra – principal percussion
      Cleveland Orchestra – principal oboe
      Cincinnati Symphony – principal oboe
      Boston Symphony – principal trombone
      Saint Louis Symphony – principal cello
      New York Philharmonic – principal viola
      Pittsburgh Symphony – principal trumpet

      Section players – Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, et. al.

      If my memory is correct…the esteemed Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy in April 2011….the San Diego Symphony filed for bankruptcy in 1996…..perhaps you ought to catch up on your history before you make blanket statements about a history that you have apparently slept through!!!!

      • Una says:

        You can’t compare all this with the lack of money in Northern Ireland and the lack of people as well!

      • Older and Wiser says:

        Robert, I am speaking of Music Directors moving to bigger jobs, not the players.

        The musicians of SDiego Symph are of a very high level, no question. I’ve played with enough of them at summer festivals to know that. Too high a level, as you point out, to make San Diego their career destination. Of course they feed in to big jobs. What top player wants to get stuck in San Diego?

        Phila declared bankruptcy for totally different reasons than San DIego. Check your history on that. Phila’s bankruptcy was a financial strategy by mgt. which was no reflection of the community’s support of the orch. Phila has a long & distinguished symph orch tradition & a community which expects them to be there.

        Not the case in San Diego. It will always be a challenge to keep a top level symphony afloat financially in San Diego. The community doesn’t expect it or need it. There is little symph orch tradition. There are more pressing concerns there which require funding.

        I am glad for the recent financial infusion and I hope for the best for the orch. But you can’t compare Phila and SD’s bankruptcies in the same breath. They are 2 entirely different scenarios.

        • Robert H Wilkins says:

          Since you are an authority on San Diego & the San Diego Symphony Orchestra it is a pity that you are unaware of the fact that the orchestra members in the SDSO love it here…not only the city but the comradely of the ensemble and the extremely high artistic quality. to your question “…who would want to be stuck in San Diego San Diego?”…the answer is MANY. As to why are top players leaving the orchestra? I don’t know of too many players in ANY orchestra that would turn down the opportunity for a titled position in the BSO, CSO, Cleveland, NYP, if offered.

          As to the “recent” infusion of cash into the SDSO that was in 2002…16 years ago. As to the financial worries of the SDSO…true enough. However I don’t know of too many orchestras or opera companies in this country (big & smaller), with a very few exceptions, that do not have financial worries.

          Before you go around making flat assertions about topics about which you do not have the complete facts…you should be more circumspect

          • Older and Wiser says:

            Robert, I am no authority on San Diego. I just am not a fan. I live outside of the US and I resent all the hype which London agents (that’s where the cash infusion story came from) have been making about this position.

            I stand corrected after reading Saxon’s description of the budget. It’s larger than I thought.

            Europeans often seem to think that any US orch is the Holy Grail. The point I’ve been trying to make is that while Ulster may have its problems financially, San Diego is not problem free. Nothing more. Peace out.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      The budget for the orchestra in San Diego is about the same as, or slightly more than, those at Baltimore, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Seattle and only slightly behind Houston. It looks like a good 2nd tier orchestra and a good opportunity for someone like Payare.

    • LP says:

      As a matter of fact, San Diego is a dream city and it is great to be stuck here. I probably wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the US.

  • SPR says:

    Ignoring all the (somewhat acidic in places) comments above, congratulations to both the Ulster Orchestra for having enjoyed what Payare could bring in recent years, and congratulations to him for his ongoing career. The Ulster Orchestra is developing, thanks partly to Payare but also to their management and support behind the scenes, and it is in a place now where they will probably attract another new exciting name. They both have a commitment to live music in part of the UK that needs that orchestra there.
    For those with open mind, the UO have an exciting concert tonight featuring a new trumpet concerto – look out to listen for yourself on R3 as it will be a deferred relay. Let’s be positive – and not try to condemn where it is not needed

  • Robert H Wilkins says:

    My final comment to “Older and Wiser”….

    Interesting that you finally acknowledged that your rant was in response to the concept that US orchestras are the Holy Grail…I know none of my colleagues in the US orchestra business who believe that the US is paradise in the orchestra business. It is brutal here to maintain artistic standards and survive financially in the current US social & financial environment.

    What annoyed me about “Older & Wisers” comments was that he was making allegations about the situation here in San Diego, when it became obvious that he had no concept about what was going on here other than it is a fight day to day as it is in most orchestras and opera companies almost everywhere!!!!!

    My final statement re this matter!!!!

    • Peter says:

      Robert, thank you for setting the record straight on San Diego. The recent search for a new music director has been fascinating, with (mostly) fine to superb candidates, each bringing very different strengths to offer. Payare’s podium presence clearly thrilled the audience; I listened with my eyes closed, and heard transparencies of texture (even in, e.g., massive tuttis of the Prokofiev 5th) that were thrilling and unexpected, along with a fine sense of line. He’s young, with still plenty to learn I’m sure, but he strikes me as having loads of talent and musicality. The next several years should be interesting.