Is there a double standard for “woman conductors? The answer, as conductor Xian Zhang can personally attest to, is yes. Xian Zhang is a musical director for one of Italy’s leading orchestras. She recently marked her debut performance as conductor of Le nozze di figaro by the Merola Opera Program in San Francisco.
Not only does she excel in her craft, but she has also proven wrong the notion that in a male dominated profession like directing, composing, and conducting, the men have the upper hand. Xian Zhang acknowledges that women conductors need to be better prepared than their male counterparts and to give their all to gain acceptance. She is among the handful of female conductors who have shown mettle in her chosen field.
For the China-born conductor who immensely enjoyed music as a child, and went on to become a much sought-after conductor, the road to success has been rife with challenges. Yet she has shown courage and determination. To date, she has served as guest conductor of the Chicago, Houston, and National Symphonies as well as the London Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw, English National Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic. She has also become an associate conductor of the New York Philharmonic.
Xian Zhang is noted for her controlled gestures and precise cues. One of the operas that are very close to her heart, Le nozze di figaro, was the first opera she conducted in public in her homeland, China. A great performance of the Mozart opera requires wit, a much clarified texture, and expressiveness, things she has demonstrated very well.
Xian Zhang started out as a pianist, but as fate had it, she changed course. She has expressed that conducting was not part of her original plan, but things began to take shape in her career, and the opportunities just snowballed. Milan-based Xian Zhang has overcome hurdles. Through it all, it has always been music that has helped her come through.