32-year-old Venezuelan Rafael Payare won the Malko Competition for Young Conductors in Copenhagen on Saturday in an atmospheric final round broadcast live on Danish radio and television.
The horn player and former assistant to Claudio Abbado and Gustavo Dudamel was chosen by an 11-strong jury chaired by Lorin Maazel. Peyare leaves Copenhagen with €20,000, guaranteed engagements with 24 European symphony orchestras over the next three years and a programme of assistance from Maazel. But he won’t be gone for long: his first engagement comes on May 23, conducting Mozart and Mussorgsky with the Copenhagen Philharmonic as part of the Tivoli Festival.
Payare, natural and composed on the podium for the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, looked overcome when he was announced as the winner by his Royal Highness Prince Henrik, Denmark’s Prince Consort. In celebration he sight-read his way through Lumbye’s Champagne Gallop with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.
Runners-up Antonio Méndez from Spain and Kristiina Poska from Estonia gave largely assured performances of other symphonic excerpts by Tchaikovsky and Nielsen’s Prelude to Act II of Saul and David – the prescribed work with which all three began. Méndez, with an economical beat and an ear for orchestral colour and balance, seemed to be the choice of the industry professionals in the audience. Poska, who got the most beautiful playing from the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, won the audience prize.
But Peyare was liked by the orchestra. ‘He seemed very shy at the start of the week, very humble,’ DNSO clarinettist Matthias Kjøller told Gramophone. His colleague, the cor anglais player Mette Termansen, added: ‘He did a really good job and developed throughout the week. He was breathing with us – and especially with the winds. You can really feel that.’
The orchestra’s biggest cheer, though, was reserved for Fourth Prize winner David Danzmayr. ‘He was great in the other rounds,’ said Kjøller. ‘He was fantastic in the excerpt from Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, but he was nervous in the fourth round yesterday so he didn’t make it to the final.’
The Malko Competition was founded in 1965, taking its name from the Ukrainian maestro Nicolai Malko who in 1929 arrived in Copenhagen on a mission to improve the sound of the 4-year-old Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra. This year, with funding from the Nordea Foundation and blanket television and radio coverage from Danish broadcaster DR, the competition has set out its desire to become the leading conducting contest of its kind. The next competition will be held in 2015.