Principal Guest Conductor – BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales
Conductor Emeritus – Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi
Xian Zhang’s contract as Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has been extended until the 2023/24 season, to include the orchestra’s 100th anniversary in 2022. Of her final concerts in 2017/18, conducting Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, NJ.com wrote: “From the opening bars, Zhang imbued the work with majesty, creating the alpine atmospherics that the score calls for. The off-stage horns sounded perfect and the deep pull of Mahler’s music was in full effect. Zhang made the swooping waltzes of the second movement come to life and gave the bluesy, jazzy third movement an elegant light touch. The final movement was big and bold; the horns stood up in the grand finale and made beautiful, clarion sounds. The brass section of the NJSO has never sounded better. The NJPAC audience was on its feet at the end. This is now Zhang’s orchestra – how far can she take it between now and 2024?’
In September 2016, Zhang assumed the position of Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales, becoming the first female conductor to hold a titled role with a BBC orchestra. Her 2018/19 BBC NOW season includes her first international tour with the orchestra to China. The visit is supported by British Council China and forms part of their Inspiring Women In The Arts campaign.
She also holds the post of Conductor Emeritus of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, following completion of her tenure as Music Director from 2009–2016.
Last season included return visits to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Orchestre National de Belgique, Orquesta Nacional de España, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, San Francisco Symphony and NAC Orchestra, Ottawa. 2018/19 sees her debuts with Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra, Sydney Symphony, and the orchestra of Royal Stockholm Opera. Xian Zhang is invited regularly to the London Symphony and Royal Concertgebouw orchestras; recent highlights include her debut with The Cleveland Orchestra and a gala concert with Renée Fleming and the China NCPA Orchestra.
Equally in demand on the opera podium, she conducted a successful production of Nabucco with Welsh National Opera in June 2014 which subsequently transferred to Savonlinna, to where she returned in 2016 for Otello. Other notable opera engagements include Den Norske Opera in January 2016 conducting La Traviata, and English National Opera in October 2015 (La bohème). She will make her debut for Santa Fe Opera in 2020.
Xian Zhang is a regular conductor in her native China where, amongst others, she works NCPA Orchestra, China Philharmonic and Guangzhou Symphony Orchestras. A champion of Chinese composers, she has conducted Chen Yi’s Ge Xu (Antiphony) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Qigang Chen’s Er Huang (China NCPA Orchestra, June 2017) and Iris Dévoilée (BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Proms, and China NCPA Orchestra – both in 2015). She also conducted the world premiere of Qigang Chen’s Luan Tan with the Hong Kong Philharmonic in 2015.
Working with young musicians plays a major part in Zhang’s life. She held the position of Artistic Director of the NJSO, Dutch Orchestra and Ensemble Academy from 2010 to 2015, and in summer 2015 she made her hugely successful debut with the European Union Youth Orchestra, conducting them in Grafenegg, Amsterdam, Berlin, Rheingau and Bolzano. In August 2017 she conducted the Italian Youth Orchestra in a programme of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov and returned to Aspen Music Festival in August 2018.
Born in Dandong, China, Xian Zhang made her professional debut conducting Le nozze di Figaro at the Central Opera House in Beijing at the age of 20. She trained at Beijing’s Central Conservatory, earning both her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees, and served one year on its conducting faculty before moving to the United States in 1998. She was appointed as the New York Philharmonic’s Assistant Conductor in 2002, subsequently becoming their Associate Conductor and the first holder of the Arturo Toscanini Chair.
Conductor Xian Zhang makes her debut with Philharmonia Orchestra this week, with concerts at the Bedford Corn Exchange (28 March), De Montfort Hall in Leicester (29 March), and The Anvil in Basingstoke (30 March) culminating in a final performance at the Royal...
With repertoire combining Xian Zhang’s experience in both the operatic and symphonic worlds, the concert opens with the Dutch premiere of Kate Whitley’s Speak Out, the world premiere of which was also conducted by Xian Zhang with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales...
Beginning with two concerts in Beijing at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (15 & 16 Dec), this landmark tour consists of further performances in Changsha (18 Dec), Wuhan (19 Dec), before concluding in a joint performance alongside players from the local...
“Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony received a quite exceptional account. Zhang was in her element and with absolute control. The individual and quiet contributions were of suppressed-but-alive artistic freedom. Throughout, the playing was exemplary.” [Philharmonia Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall, March 2019]
“Xian Zhang, on the other hand, was spectacular. More of her, please.”
David Gordon Duke
“She obviously loves the work [Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2], and she showed us how she operates at full throttle: full of dynamism and rhythmic thrust and wonderfully in tune with the sweetness and flow of the composer’s lyrical lines… The coda was scintillating, a true testament to Zhang’s deeply-felt conviction and the commitment of the orchestra… Xian Zhang’s Tchaikovsky was of the absolutely highest class, as was her demonstrated orchestral control”
“Zhang is an extraordinary conductor, unfolding the majesty and mystery of this work with singing clarity. Using a baton, she conducts with her entire body, arms moving so rapidly at times they become a blur or sweep down, almost touching the floor. Her direction is precise and her command of these powerful musical forces is absolute… Each section of each movement received her complete attention, resulting in a well-balanced performance.”
“A sparkling account of the New World from Xian Zhang and the MSO… Zhang’s expert guidance ensured that sufficient space was always available for the piano’s melodic expression to breathe without being overpowered… From the opening bars, Xian Zhang’s complete command of the New World was evident as she guided the MSO, without a score, through a thrilling account of its toe-tappingly propulsive rhythms, irresistible melodies and the sweeping lyricism of the Largo. Clearly having a ball, Zhang grinned broadly as she dipped and soared throughout a sharp and utterly assured performance that it was truly a pleasure to witness.”
“The Friday program introduced two musical entities to Aspen we should be seeing more — the Florida-based chorale Seraphic Fire and the energetic Chinese-born American conductor Xian Zhang… [Xian Zhang] made an impression with big gestures, clear and precise, that brought out an ideal balance of rigor and flexibility in the music… Together they made music that was like plugging Mozart’s score into a high-voltage socket. They made each turn of phrase special, not by blasting away — although climaxes lacked nothing in power — but by shaping rhythm, textures, dynamics and the Catholic Mass text into something that came alive.”
“Zhang then took the podium to lead the orchestra in a rollicking rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s overture from “Candide.” The NJSO music director has achieved a great deal with the Jersey band during her tenure so far — perhaps most of all the energy she brings to the podium and the sense of excitement she instills in the orchestra.”
James C. Taylor
“The dynamic performances Ms. Zhang led on Friday proved that hers is a name worth memorizing. On the podium she is a pint-size bundle of energy, conducting with feet firmly grounded and big, purposeful motions of the torso and arms. In brief remarks from the stage, she also showed herself to be a natural communicator, brimming with enthusiasm and humor: a good choice for this orchestra, which takes its ambassadorial role seriously with concert series offered across the state and numerous outreach initiatives. The orchestra is also stocked with excellent players, and there were moments during Friday’s program when the sound reached a fullness and polish that would be the envy of better-known ensembles on the other side of the state lines.”
Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim
“The Rachmaninov was a thing of grand passions. Zhang pressed through it where some interpreters linger. The brass glared in places, though strings and woodwind were admirably sumptuous, the great clarinet solo in the third movement beautifully poised.”
“It is not easy to convey [Shostakovich’s] ambiguity to young people – but Xian Zhang succeeds in doing just that. Not only does the performance range on the level of a professional top orchestra, but it is also spot-on atmospherically. The opening movement evokes the voice of a tortured soul, the march music breaks in brutally, and the apotheosis with its hope for better times comes off to touching effect. The festival mood of the Allegretto is contorted into the grotesque, and the Largo begins like a reverie but tips over regularly into nightmarish episodes. The grim final movement with its machine music finally exposes the empty pathos of all party conference slogans.”
“Zhang and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales offered the contrast of red-blooded performances of Russian symphonies. Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony was steadier, tougher in character than usual. Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.2 boasted well drilled playing and outgoing certainty of vision.”
“Rachmaninov Symphony no.2, Nick Breckenfield in ClassicalSouce said she conducted with “a romantic sweep starting from the opening’s growling double basses to the irrepressible high spirits of the final bars” (Classical Source, August 2015)
“Zhang once again proved a thrilling leader. Her innate musicality and ability to communicate intention with clarity invested every gesture. Nothing seemed extraneous or glossed over, even as her whole body seemed to contract and release with explosive energy.”
The Star Ledger, May 2015
“Happily, in the hands of the conductor Xian Zhang, the thrust of the music made up for the directorial inadequacies. In an impressive company debut, Zhang’s credentials as music director of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi shone through: she drove things forward with a stirring dynamism but, just as importantly, let the dramatic pauses breathe with sound instinct, and was alert to the score’s intimate chamber-music qualities. WNO’s musicians played with great sensitivity.”
Opera, August 2014
“A five-star musical performance, lovingly crafted by the fast-rising Chinese conductor Xian Zhang.”
Richard Morrison, The Times, June 2014
“The good news is that there can be no complaints about the performance’s musical quality, conducted with Muti-like dynamism agility and precision by Xian Zhang. She drives an impressive cast.”
Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, June 2014
“Musically, the chorus and orchestra’s triumph is paralleled by that of conductor Xian Zhang in her notable company debut. A dynamic presence in the pit.”
Rhian Evans, The Guardian, June 2014
“A stupendous chorus and excellent cast were the real winners. Together they soared above dowdiness and kitsch to render entirely plausible the agonies of love, jealousy and confused loyalties, supported with admirable pace and panache by conductor Xian Zhang’s WNO Orchestra.”
Stephanie Power, The Independent, June 2014
“Fortunately, Williams, the principals, the chorus and a marvellous orchestra conducted with vibrancy and passion by Xian Zhang, rose above it all.”
Mike Smith, Wales Online, June 2014
“An exciting, heart-on-sleeve Verdian, Zhang powered her way through the overture to La Forza del Destino and delivered the Act I Prelude to La traviata with a finely judged combination of passion and restraint…. The second half was given over to Tchaikovsky’s Manfred, the final instalment of the Proms’ survey of his complete symphonies. Zhang’s in-your-face approach worked wonders here. The first movement, which can sound stentorian, crackled with electricity. She was reckless with speeds, lurched through the first movement coda, and brought the scherzo to a standstill before launching the trio – though each time she got away with it. This is a terrific orchestra, too: what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in dynamism. The single encore, the gallop from Rossini’s William Tell overture, was hair-raising.”
Tim Ashley, The Guardian, September 2013
“The pleasant surprise of the concert was the excellence of the Orchestra Sinfonia di Milano Giuseppe Verdi and its pocket-sized dynamo of a Chinese conductor Xian Zhang, who made it clear that she – yes, she, o ye of little faith – meant business from the first crisp downbeat of the Overture to La Forza del Destino. The second half of the programme was devoted to Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony. It’s a work bloated with the rhetoric of Weltschmerz, which can easily seem both pretentious and banal. But Xian and her Italians played it here with such impressive commitment and precision that it revealed its nobler aspects, notably in a stirring final movement which ran the gamut from daimonic bravado to deathbed resignation.”
Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, September 2013