On Thursday night, Gustavo Dudamel saw the audience at the Mann Auditorium offer one of its most enthusiastic displays in recent years. A standing ovation summoned the conductor back to the stage no fewer than three times, a most unusual sight when it comes to the fastidious Tel Aviv crowd. But the reading Dudamel gave for Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 was simply breathtaking in its color, zest and musical drive. The man holding the baton is only 25, but is already making his sure way to the top of the global conductors list. Charismatic, energetic and extremely lively, Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel is a name to remember. "My father was a trombone player," says Dudamel, "and when I was four he sent me to the conservatory to study that instrument, too." But young Gustavo's arm was still too short for the trombone, and instead he studied music theory. Later he studied the violin, but soon discovered the joy of conducting. "I discovered conducting when I was as young as eight," he recalls, "and I've been in love with that profession ever since." Surprisingly enough, the Israel Philharmonic (IPO) was the first major orchestra he conducted. "Oh, sure I've conducted orchestras before it," he says, "but the IPO gave me the first opportunity to conduct a major orchestra in a regular concert season and to collaborate with star soloists." The star soloist he currently accompanies is the young Chinese pianist Yundi Li. Dudamel's love story with the IPO started last year when he substituted for Zubin Mehta. His rapport with the orchestra was excellent, yielding superb results. Subsequently, Dudamel became one of the orchestra's most endeared guest-conductors overnight. "It was a special connection right from the beginning," he states. "It is a great orchestra with a great tradition. They were very open with me, and we established a special relationship that I find difficult to explain in words. It can be best described as magic." This love story continued last weekend, when he led the orchestra in a short tour to the Spoleto Festival in Italy. But the IPO is only one of his engagements. Others include the Vienna Philharmonic, Milan's La Scala, Berlin's State Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic. He is also about to release his first CD for the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label with his Venezuelan youth orchestra. Dudamel counts some of today's most revered conductors as his role models, among them Daniel Barenboim, Claudio Abbado, Simon Rattle and Zubin Mehta. In fact, it has been said his body language is quite similar to that of Abbado's. "Oh, sure Abbado has a great influence over me," Dudamel admits. "Every young conductor watches the masters and learns from them. But it's not that I'm intentionally trying to imitate his style. If there is any resemblance, it is unconscious." Dudamel is in Israel with his wife Eloisa, whom he married only six months ago. The two owe their acquaintance to Claudio Abbado; it was his concert in Caracas where they first met. Dudamel will conduct two additional concerts this week (July 5 and 8) with lighter programs, including works by Liszt, Bernstein, Carre o and Marquez. The latter two are contemporary South-American composers whose music is heavily based on local tunes and dances. Dudamel is puzzled when asked what other line of work he would choose if he could start his career over. "A musician," he smiles. "Or better, a conductor again."