Principal Guest Conductor – BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales
Conductor Emeritus – Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi
Following an acclaimed first season as Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Xian Zhang – a conductor of “dynamism, agility and precision” (The Telegraph) – continues her tenure in 2017/18 with performances of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Mahler’s Symphony No.1 and Dvořák’s Symphony No.9, among others. In September 2016 she 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; the season culminated in a televised BBC Proms performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No.9, anticipating the start of a two-year project devoted to the composer’s complete symphonies, with other 2017/18 highlights set to include a concert tour of Wales. Zhang is also Conductor Emeritus of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, following completion of her tenure as Music Director from 2009 until 2016.
Forthcoming guest-conductor engagements include returns to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, NDR Radiophilharmonie, Orchestre National de Belgique and Orquesta Nacional de España, as well as debuts with the San Francisco Symphony and NAC Orchestra, Ottawa. A regular conductor of the London Symphony and Royal Concertgebouw orchestras, in March 2017 Zhang made her debut with The Cleveland Orchestra, stepping in for an indisposed Semyon Bychkov.
Zhang is also in demand as an opera conductor, and in summer 2018 she makes her third appearance at the Savonlinna Opera Festival, conducting Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. A hugely successful production of Nabucco with Welsh National Opera in June 2014 subsequently transferred to Savonlinna, where she also conducted Otello in 2016; other recent engagements include a gala concert with Renée Fleming and the China NCPA Orchestra in June 2017, her debut with Den Norske Opera in January 2016 conducting La traviata, and a return to the English National Opera in October 2015 to conduct La bohème.
Zhang frequently returns to conduct in her native China, where she is a regular conductor with the China Philharmonic and Guangzhou Symphony orchestras, among others. A champion of Chinese composers, she is a notable exponent of the music of Qigang Chen: this season she conducts Ge Xu (Antiphony) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra; past performances include Er Huang (China NCPA Orchestra, June 2017), Iris Dévoilée (BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Proms, and China NCPA Orchestra – both in 2015), and the world premiere of Luan Tan with the Hong Kong Philharmonic in spring 2015.
Working with young talented musicians plays a major part in Zhang’s life. She held the position of Artistic Director of the NJO, 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 in August 2018 she returns to the Aspen Music Festival.
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.
IMG Artists is delighted that Xian Zhang has joined its global roster with immediate effect. Managed out of IMGA's London office in association with Jennifer Spencer Artist Management, Xian is currently in her second season with both the New Jersey Symphony, where she...
“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