ISELE BEN-DOR, new music director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, keeps the kind of free-lance schedule that seems alternately glamorous and exhausting:
This summer she has already performed with the Jerusalem Symphony and with orchestras in Brazil and Uruguay. This week, she's off to Czechoslovakia for a two-week residency with the Boleslav Martinu Orchestra. Her fall schedule brings European jobs as well as concerts with her orchestras in Annapolis and Boston.
In addition, she will move her household from Texas to New Jersey and give birth to the second child she calls "Opus II."
"You ask how I can combine all these things? You have to be very practical, you do things in a practical way. And you don't stray away from that," she says. "The first thing we found in New Jersey was a school for Roy. And then we found a house that is 10 minutes from the school."
Until last month, Ben-Dor was also resident conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. She resigned to move closer to her East Coast jobs; she also directs the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra in Boston. The move means no more commuting for her husband Eli, a mechanical engineer who worked in New Jersey while Gisele and their 8-year-old son were in Houston. It also means that Ben-Dor will be able to drive to many of her concerts, making it easier to bring her new infant.
This season the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra will perform five double subscription concerts and two children's concerts; it's the orchestra's most ambitious year to date, says executive director Patricia Edwards. Founded in 1961 by Kenneth Page, the orchestra has an annual budget of $365,000.
"I think the orchestra has come quite a long way in their own perception of themselves and I am stepping in to where they are poised for a lot of growth," Ben-Dor says. "The place is right, the time is right. And artistically I am very well impressed in terms of what they can do with the repertoire. I have hopes of trying to improve that also . . . I must explore the possibilities of how to make it better."
According to Edwards, Ben-Dor is more than up to the task.
"We wanted a thorough professional, someone with the stunning background she has. She was very well recommended by both orchestras she worked with, had all the educational credentials -- Tanglewood and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the master's degree from Yale -- she punched all the right buttons.
"She's very self-possessed and also a very balanced person . . . She has a husband, a child . . . "
"A child and a half!" the music director points out.
"I liked that," Edwards says. "She seemed to have it all."
Ben-Dor says, "I think that one can have it all, but not at the same time.
"You have to make some choices, give up certain things, and constantly see what is most important."
Raised in Uruguay, Ben-Dor moved to Israel with her family when she was 18, and attended the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv. (She speaks Spanish, Hebrew, English and French.) She came to the United States 10 years ago to study at Yale, then worked with the orchestra in Louisville, Ky., before going on to Houston. She has studied with some of the best conductors: Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Masur, Zubin Mehta.
"I've taken from them that which was congenial, that which was appropriate for me to learn," she says.
She says that she prefers 20th century music.
"That doesn't mean only contemporary music, it includes Debussy and Ravel, Stravinsky and Bartok and a lot of what we already consider established repertoire. I also love Romantic music. I have a very strong affinity with most of the Romantic great scores of the 19th century. And I love Mozart, I think everyone loves Mozart.
"I'm very eclectic, I have to say. I also love ethnically inspired music, anything from Slavonic dances to jazz, music that is born of and reflects the folk element."
Ben-Dor, who is in her mid-30s, grew up listening to the folk songs of Uruguay and Argentina, to the tango and bossa nova and to East European music.
"My parents gave me a very thorough classical musical education since I was 4, but I was always curious about all the music around me. I was playing guitars, accordions, harps . . . I taught myself how to play all these things. It was clear from the beginning that I had this, this, this . . . deformation, you know! But I don't think that anybody could have known what path it would take."
Although she enjoyed directing choirs of her friends as a child, Ben-Dor never imagined a career in conducting. For one thing, there were no women role models.
"It was not self-evident at all. It took me a while to say, 'Hey folks, this is who I am and this is what I want to be.' "