Venezuelan-born conductor Rafael Payare, a graduate of his homeland’s famous El Sistema program, has been described as a rock star, “a cross between Phil Lynott [co-founder of the U.K. rock band Thin Lizzy] and Tom Hulce as Mozart in the Oscar-winning ‘Amadeus.’ “

The winner of the Malko Conducting Competition in 2012, Payare will make his Ravinia debut Aug. 6, leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a program of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, Rimsky-Korsakov’s suite from Sheherazade and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 (with Pinchas Zukerman as soloist). In the years since, the young conductor has had podium debuts with the London Symphony, Munich Philharmonic, Rotterdam Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony, Oslo Philharmonic, Gothenburg Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and in January 2015, the Vienna Philharmonic.

He’s also part of a classical music power couple: in 2013, he married internationally acclaimed cellist Alisa Weilerstein. They now have home bases in Berlin and Caracas.

Last fall, Payare took up the post of chief conductor of the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He replaced American conductor JoAnn Falletta, the first woman to have held that position with this orchestra. This summer, he also was chief conductor at the Castleton Festival, founded in 1997 in rural Virginia by maestro Lorin Maazel.

“When I came to Belfast [in October 2013] to conduct the Ulster Orchestra, I had no idea the performance would turn out to be a type of audition,” said Payare, 34, in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph. “I did not realize they were looking for a chief conductor. But the first time we played together, it was clear to me that the energy generated was really special. From then on I knew that, together, we could create something great through a shared vision and understanding.

“The most important thing for me is [the orchestra’s] artistic development and achievement because the art itself is food for the soul. The rest is noise.”

To read the full interview, click here.