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 twenty. She trained at Beijing’s Central Conservatory, earning both her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees, and serving 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 occupant of the Arturo Toscanini Chair.
Now in her second season as Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony, she gives performances of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, among others. In 2016, she 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. Xian Zhang is also Conductor Emeritus of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, where she served as music director from 2009 through 2016.
Xian Zhang frequently returns to conduct in her native China, where she regularly leads the China Philharmonic and Guangzhou Symphony, among others. A champion of Chinese composers, she is a notable exponent of the music of Qigang Chen. This season she conducts Chen Yi’s Ge Xu (Antiphony) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the New Jersey Symphony.
Upcoming engagements include returns to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, NDR Radiophilharmonie, Belgian National Orchestra, Spanish National Orchestra, and Aspen Music Festival, and her debut with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. A regular conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, she made her debut with the Cleveland Orchestra in March 2017. Xian 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. Other recent engagements include a gala concert with Renée Fleming and the China NCPA Orchestra, her debut with Norwegian National Opera conducting La Traviata, and a return to the English National Opera to conduct La Bohème. This performance marks her San Francisco Symphony debut.