Gisèle Ben-Dor made a spectacular debut as a guest conductor of world-class orchestras, followed up by solid accomplishments in American regional orchestras.
She was born in Uruguay of Polish immigrant parents. After her musical talents became evident, she went to Tel Aviv, Israel, to study at the Rubin Academy of Music on an America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship. After completing her studies there, she continued at the Yale School of Music in New Haven, Connecticut. She won conducting fellowships at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute and the Israel Philharmonic. At Tanglewood, Leonard Bernstein took an interest in her career and coached her. Her American conducting debut was at the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra in a 1986 Summerfest concert. In the same year, she was the winner of the Bartók Prize of the Hungarian Television International Competition, resulting in her being awarded an Eastern European tour.
Like her mentor Leonard Bernstein, she was asked at the last minute to replace the scheduled conductor of the New York Philharmonic, in her case Kurt Masur. Performing without a rehearsal and from memory, she won unanimous acclaim and was immediately invited back for further performances. One of them was at Central Park before an audience estimated at 100,000. Bernstein invited her to conduct the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra at the first Schleswig-Holstein Festival. When she made her debut with the Israel Symphony Orchestra, conducting Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, the event was televised by the BBC and broadcast live throughout Europe.
She was appointed Resident Conductor of the Houston Symphony, serving as such in 1988-1991. In that capacity she conducted the orchestra at the 1989 Inauguration of President George H. W. Bush. She was named a Musical America "Young Artist of the Year," was invited to debut in Carnegie Hall during the historic concert venue's 100th Anniversary Celebration, and has guest conducted many important orchestras and chamber orchestras in four continents.
Ben-Dor became the Music Director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. (Annapolis is a small city near Washington, D.C. that is the capital of the State of Maryland and home of the U.S. Naval Academy.) Her next appointment was as Music Director of the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra in Boston, followed by her 1994 engagement as Music Director of the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra. These appointments overlapped. She gave up the Annapolis position after six years, and stepped down from Boston after seven. He contract with the Santa Barbara Symphony ended in 2006. Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times called Ben-Dor "a star on the rise" and concluded that there was "surely no holding back a conductor with so ferocious a talent."
She has been a champion of music of her native Latin American culture. She has recorded for CRI, Centaur, and Koch Classics. Her debut recording on Koch, in music of Ginastera, was widely acclaimed. Her first recording with the Santa Barbara Symphony in two orchestral works by Revueltas and the English Chamber Orchestra in another Revueltas work for smaller ensemble won raves. In 2000, she released Villa-Lobos' sprawling Symphony No. 10 with the Santa Barbara Orchestra for Koch. She began working with the daughter of Alberto Ginastera in 2004 to produce a series of recordings of his works, including 2016's Ginastera: The Vocal Album with Plácido Domingo, released by Warner Classics, which also continued her relationship with the Santa Barbara Symphony.
Gisèle Ben-Dor is married to engineer Eli Ben-Dor and is a permanent resident of the United States. They have two sons and live near the U.S. east coast.