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 and 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.
Zhang also holds the post of Conductor Emeritus of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, following completion of her tenure as Music Director from 2009–16.
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. 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 that subsequently transferred to Savonlinna, where she returned for Otello in 2016. Other notable opera engagements include La Traviata with Den Norske Opera in January 2016 and La bohème with English National Opera in October 2015. She will make her Santa Fe Opera debut in 2020.
Zhang is a regular conductor in her native China, where she works with, amongs others, NCPA Orchestra, China Philharmonic and Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra. A champion of Chinese composers, she has conducted Chen Yi’s Ge Xu (Antiphony) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the NJSO, Qigang Chen’s Er Huang with China NCPA Orchestra and Iris Dévoilée with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Proms and China NCPA Orchestra. She 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 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. She conducted the Italian Youth Orchestra in a program of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov in August 2017 and returned to Aspen Music Festival in August 2018.
Born in Dandong, China, 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.