In the traditional world of classical music, no area has been less hospitable to women than the conductor’s platform. So it’s remarkable that one of the world’s hottest maestros is not just a woman, but a 35-year-old from China—Xian Zhang, associate conductor at the New York Philharmonic. “Having an unusual background means you view tradition in a totally different way,” Zhang tells the New Statesman.
Zhang’s autodidact father built her a piano from factory parts; at 11 she moved to Beijing for music school, where women were fully integrated into the classical scene. Now Zhang is heavy demand worldwide; she has guest performances scheduled from Chicago to Vienna, and last year she became the first woman to conduct Dresden’s Staatskapelle—the orchestra of Richard Wagner.