Former SB Symphony conductor honored for societal contributions
The Carnegie Corporation of New York, one of the nation’s oldest grantmaking foundations, recognized a former conductor of the Santa Barbara Symphony this past Fourth of July.
Uruguay immigrant Gisèle Ben-Dor was one of 34 naturalized citizens who received the “Great Immigrant, Great American” award, which celebrates the many ways in which immigrants enrich culture, strengthen democracy and improve society through their lives, work and examples.
“Being a woman conductor may not be normal to the outside world, but it’s normal to me,” Ms. Ben-Dor told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency once. “I must say that since I came to the United States, I have been given every opportunity, and I hope I deserve it.”
Ms. Ben-Dor was born to Polish immigrants and asked her parents to let her use the family piano at age 3 in Uruguay. She studied piano and taught herself how to play guitar. After finishing high school in Uruguay, she moved to Israel and then the United States, when she became an American citizen in the year 2000.
The Los Angeles Times called her “a ferocious talent,” and she is renowned for her interpretations of the classics and as a tireless champion of Latin American music.
The award winner was conductor laureate of the Santa Barbara Symphony for a decade. She also served as a guest conductor with major orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Israel Chamber Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and many more.
Now she is the conductor of the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston.
Ms. Ben-Dor is widely regarded as one of the world’s finest and most dedicated exponents of the Latin American repertoire, and she plays a crucial role in the rejuvenation and promotion of Latin American music. The American-Israeli conductor graduated from the Rubin Academy of Music, Tel Aviv University and the Yale School of Music, also studying with Mendi Rodan in Jerusalem.
Her most famous Latin American works include: “Ginastera,” “Villa-Lobos,” “Revueltas,” “Piazzolla” and “Luis Bacalov.”
Carnegie New York quoted Vartan Gregorian, the late president of the corporation, upon handing out the awards, saying: “Great immigrants have come from different backgrounds and have pursued different worthwhile goals, but collectively, they have shared a desire to become citizens and have made our democratic society stronger. For all of their efforts, we salute them.”
The Carnegie Corporation of New York celebrates exemplary contributions of immigrants to American life every Fourth of July. The winners have a wide variety of backgrounds and careers.
The Great Immigrants initiative reflects the priorities of Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant who rose from poverty to become a leading industrialist.
The 2021 honorees join more than 600 outstanding immigrants honored by the corporation since 2006.