A Prot_g_e on the Podium | Playbill

Classic Arts Features A Prot_g_e on the Podium
New York Philharmonic assistant conductor Xian Zhang leads her first subscription concert this month.

When Xian Zhang won the Maazel/Vilar International Conductors' Competition in September 2002 at age 28, she won more than just the prize itself: along with it came the interest and support of Philharmonic Music Director Lorin Maazel. So it comes as little surprise that in 2004 she was appointed to the position of Assistant Conductor at the New York Philharmonic. With this appointment Ms. Zhang‹who made her Philharmonic debut last February in a Young People's Concert‹steps into a post held by some illustrious predecessors, including Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, and Claudio Abbado.

This month she makes her subscription debut in a program she shares with Mr. Maazel. Her half of the concert includes a World Premiere-New York Philharmonic Commission, Mark-Anthony Turnage's Scherzoid, and Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes. Mr. Maazel will lead Mozart's Symphony No. 29 and Richard Strauss's Horn Concerto No. 1, featuring Principal Horn Philip Myers.

"Do I still learn from him? Absolutely!" the Chinese-born conductor says of her mentor. "Whenever we meet somewhere, either in New York or in Europe, we discuss scores, and I have questions. He is really a wonderful teacher; he's encouraging and very patient, and explains things in a clear way‹he never makes things complicated."

Mr. Maazel clearly has an apt pupil in Xian Zhang whose pre-competition career, before she left China in 1998, included conducting posts at Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music and the China Opera.

Her musical education began early: "I started piano with my mother when I was three or four. My father, who is a technician, made my first piano; he picked up parts here and there because we couldn't afford to buy one." Now, many pianos later, Ms. Zhang has completed a four-year appointment at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory and is moving to New York City. Her first very public challenge, in January, is the new Turnage score, which she describes as "complex, dense, and dissonant" and "a very interesting work." If Ms. Zhang's past accomplishments are any measure, it will get an equally interesting performance.

Shirley Fleming is music critic of the New York Post and classical music editor of the American Record Guide.

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