Conductor Xian Zhang Prepares for First Concert as Upcoming Music Director of NJSO

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

In a nearly empty concert hall at NJPAC, conductor Xian Zhang’s energy is palpable as she leads the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra through rehearsal. This will be her first concert since the company announced she would succeed its current Music Director, Jacques Lacombe, this coming fall. The recurring guest conductor is pleased to have a permanent spot with the Symphony.

“I think the connection was very obvious even from the first time I came — I don’t know how many years ago, I didn’t keep track,” she said.

Zhang sat down with NJTV News between rehearsals for the weekend’s “Tchaikovsky 4” program.

Maddie Orton: How do you prepare for a concert when you have a new piece of music, as a conductor?

Zhang: Well, first of all, the conductor needs to really study the score very thoroughly…We read it, we rehearse it, we discuss it, we put some details into it…It’s a very complex process, but it’s done in a very short time. For this week, we have only two days.

Orton: Two days that you’re preparing?

Zhang: Yes, all of it.

Orton: What are you keeping in mind when you’re looking for that tempo and the shape of the music?

Zhang: I think you have to know the score really well and understand what the composer’s trying to say.

Orton: What do you mean by that?

Zhang: Meaning that, from the printed page, it’s like a book, a score. But those are notes. … Then you have to read the melody, you analyze the harmony, the structure, all of it. … Then eventually you form your own interpretation.

Orton: Now you’re one of a very small number of female conductors. I’m sure you hear this all the time.

Zhang: Yes.

Orton: Why do you think that is?

Zhang: Well, there are just not enough ladies studying this and considering taking this on as a career. That’s all. And to study conducting, even men, there aren’t so many. Not many musicians are thinking of studying this. It’s a very complex craft. … But I think it’s a different time as well. If we were talking about 10 years back, it would be different. We’re starting to really rise and emerge in this career.

Orton: If we want to have more female conductors, what do you think needs to be done in the field to get more women involved in conducting?

Zhang: We just have to encourage more ladies learning this. … If you feel you have this gift, then it’s your calling and you should come forward, and nobody’s going to stop you.

Zhang will conduct the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in Newark, Red Bank and Morristown this week.