Music Director – New Jersey Symphony
Principal Guest Conductor – Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Conductor Emeritus – Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano
Honorary Doctorate – The Juilliard School
2023/24 will mark Zhang’s eighth season as Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, who celebrated their centennial last season. Zhang also holds the positions of Principal Guest Conductor of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Conductor Emeritus of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano, having previously held the position of Music Director between 2009–2016.
In high demand as a guest conductor, Zhang juggles an exceptionally busy diary of guest engagements alongside her titled commitments. Throughout 2023/24, she conducts Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Anthony Minghella’s acclaimed production features a starry cast with Aleksandra Kurzak, Eleanora Buratto and Asmik Grigorian sharing the role of Cio-Cio-San, and Matthew Polezani as Pinkerton.
Following a busy summer 2023 season which saw her conducting Boston Symphony at Tanglewood, Zhang’s upcoming symphonic highlights include returns to the Philadelphia Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo, Houston Symphony, Orchestra of St Luke’s, and National Symphony Orchestra DC. Zhang remains a popular guest of London Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Montreal Symphony, Toronto Symphony, NAC Ottawa, Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, Belgian National Orchestra, and Norwegian Opera where she returned last season for Puccini’s Tosca.
Letters for The Future (released 2022), Zhang’s recording on Deutsche Grammophon with Philadelphia Orchestra and Time for Three, won multiple GRAMMY awards in both the Best Contemporary Classical Composition (Kevin Puts’ Contact) and Best Classical Instrumental Solo categories.
Zhang previously served as Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales, the first female conductor to hold a titled role with a BBC orchestra. In 2002, she won first prize in the Maazel-Vilar Conductor’s Competition. She was appointed New York Philharmonic’s Assistant Conductor in 2002, subsequently becoming their Associate Conductor and the first holder of the Arturo Toscanini Chair.
Juilliard has announced that they will confer an Honorary Doctorate to conductor Xian Zhang at their 2023 commencement ceremony. The ceremony will take place on 19 May at New York’s Alice Tully Hall, presided over by Juilliard President Damian Woetzel and Vincent Mai,...
Xian Zhang conducts at the Mostly Mozart Festival on 22 and 23 July at the Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. The programme opens with Nokuthula Ngwenyama’s Primal Message and also features Beethoven’s Symphony 3. Saxophonist Steven Banks joins the stage for...
Xian Zhang conducts Cincinnati Opera’s production of Tosca with Ana María Martínez in the title role. The Jose Maria Condemi production runs from July 23 – 31, and also stars Russell Thomas as Cavaradossi and Quinn Kelsey at Scarpia. Following the production, Xian...
“Dvorak’s New World got an emphatic reading under Zhang’s vivid and demonstrative lead. Punching out chords and scooping through space with her arms, she went for big effects.”
“this April 24 concert at London’s Barbican Centre was a perfect demonstration of her acute musicality, dynamism, and breadth of talent… The long, drawn-out crescendo that forms the bedrock of the finale, like so much in this rewarding concert, was spot on.”
“Not only was the opera gloriously sung, but it was wonderfully conducted by Xian Zhang, who led with dramatic urgency and made the 40 members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra sound as lush as could be… On the orchestra podium behind the singers, Zhang matched every breath and phrase, and propelled the drama masterfully. She painted Puccini’s canvas with a sure hand as she summoned rich textures and swept up the orchestra in powerful, surging climaxes. The first act “Te Deum,” with its organ, cannon shots, chimes and the chanting of Henri Venanzi’s chorus, was wonderfully atmospheric. Yet she also knew just where to linger to allow the music to breathe.”
“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]
“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”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Zhang, music director of the New Jersey Symphony, elicited phrasing, emphases, tempos, and inner details to consistently telling effect. From the early measures, in the descending open intervals of the strings, a feathery, chaste lightness gave the eruption that followed a dramatic weight. The well-judged contrasts and narrative sure-footedness continued. With pert string figures and chortling, gusty contributions from the woodwinds, Zhang brought a zesty strain of humor to a piece that normally induces few smiles. Yet nothing here was precious or self-conscious. The tension built inexorably, in striking contours, the climax heightened by slightly extended rubato before the concussive payoff.”
“The opening chords [of Beethoven Symphony 7] had tremendous punch, the woodwinds sang their tune under wonderful legato strings, the pipings in the poco sostenuto moved smoothly, almost in tempo into an overwhelmingly positive Vivace. She built the sound down from the brass and the woodwinds stood out more vividly for it… Zhang emphasized firepower and determination in the third movement, hammering home the repeating three-note sequence.”
“Zhang then led an elegant, rich-toned and spirited account of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The slow movement was especially fine, taken at a true Allegretto pace, steady yet never forceful, restrained yet coursing with inner intensity. It was a long-awaited and rewarding return for an essential orchestra.” [2021 season-opening concert with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra]
” Beethoven’s Fifth, which was given an agile, but full-bodied performance by Zhang… Zhang’s reading brought plenty of focus to the beauty of the wind lines, and she drew some fine pianissimos from the orchestra – the slithering lower strings of the third movement and the spritely pizzicato section was nicely done, the conductor getting an exquisitely soft sound from the musicians. With her bow drawn back so far, when she released and the crescendo swept into the fourth movement’s majestic opening, the ensemble suddenly sounded enormous, setting up the work’s rousing climax..” [Sydney Symphony Orchestra at Sydney Opera House, July 2019]
“Xian Zhang, on the other hand, was spectacular. More of her, please.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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