GTMF - Rafael Payare

Guest conductor Rafael Payare will lead the Grand Teton Music Festival’s Festival Orchestra through Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on Friday and Saturday.

A conductor has a duty to three constituencies: the audience, the orchestra and the music.

“And the soloist,” added Rafael Payare, the guest conductor this week at the Grand Teton Music Festival.

He will strive to please all four in works by Smetana, Beethoven and — with his wife, cellist Alisa Weilerstein — Schumann.

A product of Venezuela’s famous music program El Sistema, Payare is set to make his Grand Teton debut and Weilerstein to return for her third visit at 8 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday at Walk Festival Hall in Teton Village.

Asked which of the three (or four) groups is most important to honor and respect, Payare responded without hesitation: “The music above everything, of course.”

It’s also probably the most difficult.

“The audience is there because they want to hear the music,” he said, so they are already mostly won over, even before they enter the hall. “And with such good musicians, everything is going to be working the right way.”

The music, however, demands a tricky balancing act of honoring the composer’s intention and what can add up to centuries of tradition with keeping things fresh.

“These pieces are very well known,” he said. “They have been played many times.”

Included will be “The Moldau,” Bedrich Smetema’s loving tone poem to his favorite Bohemian river, Robert Schumann’s achingly introspective “Cello Concerto” and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5,” whose opening is one of the most familiar themes in classical music, even if the rest of the piece is not.

In conducting them, “it is not about trying to do something different just for the sake of doing something different,” but to dive deeply into the score, the composer, the times.

“There is a tradition from a poetic vision, not even having to do with the music,” Payare said. “Nowadays we have so many tools to do research, we have more and more editions, we can get an X-ray of the whole piece a little better and have own conception.” And, as a result, we owe it to the music to come to it well prepared.

Payare has a leg up with one constituency: this week’s soloist.

Alisa Weilerstein made her Carnegie Hall debut, was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant and played in the European Concert Hall Organisation’s “Rising Stars” program and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s young artists program — all before she graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Russian history at age 20.

In 2006 she was awarded the Leonard Bernstein Prize, and in 2011 was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, receiving the so-called “genius grant.”

BBC Music named her album of the Elgar and Carter cello concertos with Daniel Barenboim “Recording of the Year” in 2013. This winter she released her latest album, “Transfigured Night,” featuring works from both the First and the Second Viennese School: Haydn’s first and second cello concertos and Schoenberg’s “Verklarte Nacht.”

Payare recalls meeting Weilerstein’s family before meeting her. Weilerstein’s father, Donald, is the founding first violinist of the Cleveland Quartet, her mother, Vivian, is a concert pianist, and her younger brother Joshua is a violinist and conductor. Payare said he met her parents when he and her father performed Schumann’s “Octet” together in Vermont, and he met her brother through an orchestra appearance (he couldn’t remember exactly where or when).

Then, in February 2009, Weilerstein (and Joshua) appeared with the orchestra in Gothenburg, Sweden, where Payare happened to be, too, conducting Bruckner’s “Symphony No. 7.”

“We met, we said hello,” Payare said. “And then she went to Venezuela to play with us in December 2009, and we have been together ever since.”

The schedule of an international touring musician often means many longs months away from home, but Payare and Weilerstein get to perform together a lot.

“And we do not allow ourselves to be apart for more than two weeks,” he said, a rule they set early on in their relationship. “We rarely break it.” 

Contact Richard Anderson at 732-7062 or

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