Maariv, Tel-Aviv, 2000
"When I Stood Up on the Stage, I Forgot That I Was Pregnant..."
By Yehudit Hassel
"I want to be judged not as a woman, and particularly in my present condition, a pregnant woman, but simply on my professional work alone," says the 27 year old conductor Gisèle Buka Ben-Dor, who took part in the conductors' workshop under the direction of Zubin Mehta. "If the workshop had taken place" said the critics in the wake of the final concert with the Philharmonic held last week, "merely to discover Gisèle, that would have been enough."
The conductor who was acclaimed by the critics as the 'ray of light' and as the 'great promise' reached the workshop quite by chance. "I completed my conductor's course at the University of Yale about six months ago. As my husband, who is an engineer, was offered a job with an Israeli company in New Jersey, we decided, for the time being, to live in the United States. So, I came to Israel for a vacation and met my former teacher Shalom Ronly-Riklis in the street. He told me of the workshop which was to take place and said that he intended to recommend me. I am simply very grateful to him. He had neither seen nor heard me for three years and was taking a chance.' After a moment she adds: "I might have been a surprise for the worse in the same way that I was a surprise for the better."
Gisèle Buka, on the verge of going into her ninth month of pregnancy, was calm and relaxed on the morning of the closing concert of the workshop, and showed no signs of nerves. I remember always being nervous before a performance, even when I conducted the school-choir when I was 13. But this time it is different. I am sure that pregnancy has had only a positive influence on me - this is the body's defence mechanism for the foetus inside", she says stroking her belly.
"Pregnancy does not interfere in any way with my conducting. My legs hurt a little of course - but all in all the physical effort is minimal. You conduct with your hands and standing on the stage for half an hour is nothing. I really forgot that I was pregnant."
Gisèle Buka was born in Uruguay to a Jewish Zionist family. She emigrated to Israel when she was 17 and continued her musical education which she had started whilst still in Montevideo. After completing the Academy and a conductors' course with Mendi Rodan and Shalom Ronly-Riklis, she received a grant from the Cultural Fund and went to the University of Yale in Connecticut to study conducting.
Since strength and conducting go together, how does this principle fit in with the image of the woman?
"When I conducted in Italy where I had taken a course, I was unable to shake this norm. In Italy the woman's place is in the home, raising children. In the United States, because of the feminist movement, there is open-mindedness, and women can undertake any so-called male occupation. In my opinion, the well-known expression, 'conductors are born conductors', is equally true in respect of women, although they are not sufficiently aware of it. They do possess the right qualities.
Conducting, for me, is working with people, a combined production of something beautiful. If the professional ability exists it serves to persuade the musicians and even to create the necessary respect.