Payare's parents were Trina Torres de Payare, a teacher at the elementary school El Paraíso in Puerto la Cruz, and Juan R. Payare, a cartographer for the city of Puerto la Cruz. He began his music studies at age 14 at the Núcleo in Puerto la Cruz, learning the French horn. He graduated from the Universidad Nacional Experimental de Las Artes. He and his brother Joel each joined El Sistema. Payare eventually became principal horn of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra.
In 2004, Payare began conducting studies with José Antonio Abreu. In May 2012, Payare won first prize at the Nicolai Malko Competition for Young Conductors. Subsequently, he became an assistant conductor to Claudio Abbado during Abbado's work with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, and to Daniel Barenboim at the Staatsoper Berlin.
In October 2013, Payare first guest-conducted the Ulster Orchestra. On the basis of this appearance, in January 2014, the Ulster Orchestra announced the appointment of Payare as its 13th chief conductor, effective with the 2014-2015 season. This appointment marked Payare's first orchestral post. In October 2016, the orchestra announced the extension of Payare's contract through the 2018-2019 season, and also a change in his title from chief conductor to music director. In February 2018, the Ulster Orchestra announced the scheduled conclusion of Payare's music directorship of the orchestra at the close of the 2018-2019 season.
In the USA, Payare worked as an assistant to Lorin Maazel at the Castleton Festival. Following Maazel's death in 2014, Payare became principal conductor of the festival in 2015. In January 2018, Payare first guest-conducted the San Diego Symphony. On the basis of this concert, in February 2018, the orchestra named Payare its next music director, effective 1 July 2019. His initial contract is for 4 years, and he assumed the title of music director-designate with immediate effect.
- "Meet the Maestro: Rafael Payare". Classical Music Magazine. 2014-03-11. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
- "Alisa Weilerstein and Rafael Payare". New York Times. 2013-08-18. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
- Una Brankin (2014-09-26). "He's got rock star looks and a very famous cellist wife ... meet the conductor about to make a baton charge on the Ulster Orchestra". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
- "Ulster Orchestra Announce Rafael Payare as Chief Conductor from 2014-15" (Press release). Ulster Orchestra. January 2014. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
- "Rafael Payare appointed chief conductor in Ulster". Gramophone. 2014-01-15. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
- "Rafael Payare Extends Contract And Is Appointed Music Director" (Press release). Ulster Orchestra. 3 October 2016. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
- Alf McCreary (2016-09-26). "Rafael gives Ulster Orchestra the perfect 50th birthday gift". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
- Alf McCreary (2018-02-22). "Ulster Orchestra baton to be passed on as Payare bows out". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
- Anne Midgette (2015-06-26). "The Widow: Dietlinde Turban Maazel takes over Castleton". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
- Christian Hertzog (2018-01-14). "Steven Schick amazes in Roberto Sierra's exuberant percussion concerto". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
- "Rafael Payare Named Next Music Director of the San Diego Symphony" (PDF) (Press release). San Diego Symphony. 13 February 2018. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
- George Varga (2018-02-13). "San Diego Symphony names Rafael Payare as its next music director". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
| Principal Conductor and Music Director, Ulster Orchestra
2014–2016 (Principal Conductor),
2016-present (Music Director)
| Principal Conductor, Castleton Festival