Home > Artists > Xian Zhang


Music Director: Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi
Artistic Director: NJO / Dutch Orchestra and Ensemble Academy


2013/14 marks Xian Zhang's fifth season as Music Director of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, and in September 2013 she takes the orchestra to the BBC Proms for their debut at the festival with Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja in a programme of Verdi arias and overtures, along with Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony. The performance will be televised on BBC Four.

In addition to her positions with LaVerdi and the Dutch Orchestra and Ensemble Academy, Zhang guest conducts at the highest level in Europe, appearing regularly with the the London Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (this season with Martin Fröst), SWR Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic orchestras, as well as with the Gothenburg Symphony, Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the Staatskapelle Dresden. Upcoming debuts include performances with the Rotterdam and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic orchestras, and Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai Torino (with Daniil Trifonov).

In North America, recent and forthcoming appearances include concerts with Chicago, Washington’s National and New Jersey symphony orchestras, as well as the New York Philharmonic and The Philadelphia Orchestra, and notable collaborations have included performances with Hilary Hahn, Sarah Chang and Miloš.

An established opera conductor, Zhang conducted Le nozze di Figaro as part of San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program in summer 2013, and this season includes La forza del destino for Washington National Opera and Nabucco for Welsh National Opera (including performances at the Savonlinna Opera Festival). Further ahead, she will make her debut at La Scala in autumn 2014.

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“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)

“Zhang's eloquent and unhurried approach to Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.5 was evident from its brooding opening. Without losing any of the excitement of its frequent climatic points her disciplined approach to the more martial sections was contrasted with thoughtful and well-executed rubato. Zhang's modulated approach to tempi allowed space for her to highlight counter-melody and other details lost in more frenetic readings.” (Martin Duffy, The Age (Melbourne), March 2013) 

”Zhang turns into a volatile force of nature when facing the orchestra, her vast repertoire of lively gestures and precise cues drawing forth a disciplined and nuanced MSO performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Always bracing and boisterous, Zhang's account emphasised in equal measure the work's majestic refinement and more sombre, reflective passages.  Nevertheless, it was the final item on the program that gave the best indication of Zhang's musicality and talent, the enveloping drama and lush sentiment of Tchaikovsky's expansive Fifth Symphony realised in vivid detail and the work's yearning passion recognised as a source of overarching coherence.” (Eamonn Kelly, The Australian, March 2013)

Morning from Grieg’s Peer Gynt is so familiar to many concert goers that they expect nothing new, nothing exciting. Yet Xian Zhang led the orchestra in such a delicate, yet highly accurate and emotionally contrasting interpretation that not only the opening, but all four pieces felt as exciting, fresh and intense as a young morning.” (Stuttgarter Zeitung, February 2013)

"This concert was one to remember with the debut of Chinese conductor Xian Zhang, who proves that authority need not be contingent on gender, nationality, or physical stature... the main challenge is to energize the orchestra, to keep it emotionally present as consistently as possible. And she did...The performance had its little miracles. Throughout, the continuity was particularly strong because Zhang so clearly showed you where the music's hinges are." (Philadelphia Inquirer, June 2012)

“Zhang was at once commanding and exuberant, occasionally jumping or bending sharply at the waist to spur on the orchestra but often remaining fairly still – a riveting, dancer-like presence completely in the service of music, not showmanship.” (New Jersey Star-Ledger, February 2012)

"On Thursday in Music Hall, the gifted Chinese-born conductor Xian Zhang offered a sizzling interpretation of Schumann’s Symphony No. 4, and created a buzz in the audience that lasted long after the last notes had died away. She’s a dynamic presence on the podium, and she conducted most of her program from memory. The conductor projected intensity, flair and a fine musical mind as she led the orchestra through Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” Overture-Fantasie and Schumann’s Fourth Symphony in D Minor, the latter orchestrated by Mahler." (Cincinnati Enquirer, February 2012)

“Musically, everything is held together extremely well by Xian Zhang... In the first two parts she guides the small groups of musicians and singers energetically through the complicated rhythmics. And in ‘Le Rossignol' Zhang is exemplary for precision and reservedness.” (Trouw, January 2012)

“The Chinese conductor Xian Zhang shows that she knows exactly how to put on the finishing touches with Stravinsky - whether they be peasant witticisms, crooked bass lines or the enchanting sound mixtures that come to play after the break in Le Rossignol.” (De Volkskrant, January 2012)

“From the first upbeat [Xian Zhang] exudes authority, and last night she took the LSO confidently through an attractive programme exploring diverse aspects of modernism. To Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin Suite she brought a combination of steely dynamism and Technicolor brilliance that Bartok's brutalist score demands… Best was Zemlinsky's The Mermaid… Zhang drew beautifully blended textures from wind and brass, relishing the darker shadows thrown by cor anglais and bass clarinet.” (London Evening Standard, November 2011)

“Zhang got real magic from divided muted-string reveries as well as love-chemistry between maiden and prince… thanks to the LSO and Zhang, a conductor who clearly does the orchestra good, for taking the plunge.” (The Arts Desk, November 2011)