Xian Zhang, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s music director, brings a sky-high energy level and full-body approach to the podium. She leans in almost as if to embrace the musicians, and that’s not accidental. Even during the past year, with people socially distanced due to the pandemic, she has stayed tightly connected with NJSO musicians—and a film crew—to craft imaginative concert films. She has also traveled a surprising amount, guest conducting the Houston Symphony and Seattle Symphony, as well as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, where she led the November world premiere of Tyshawn Sorey’s For Marcos Balter. Here, she talks about keeping connected, shifting programming to include a more diverse group of composers, and what the past year taught her about not taking the music for granted.

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