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Interview: Xian Zhang


As part of our Ones to Watch series of artist interviews we caught up with conductor Xian Zhang ahead of her concert with the LSO at the Barbican on Sunday 18 January 2015.

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The winning post

The news is that Elim Chan has been awarded first prize in the 2014 Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition.

At the start of the day I really couldn’t have told you which way the result would go – who would second guess a competition jury when the candidates all had grounds for optimism? Of course, that’s exactly what I tried yesterday when it came to predicting which three conductors would progress from round two. But perhaps it’s significant that the one person over whom the jury and I were in agreement turned out to be the eventual winner. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway!

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stravinsky was 'ere

Sure enough, we’re getting a fair amount of Stravinsky this afternoon.

But Jiri Rozen wanted to tie up some loose ends with Scheherazade first – by the looks of it he spent the time after his morning appearance figuring out exactly which passages he felt most uncertain about, or that were the most liable to trip him up later, because he focused specifically on those moments and not simply playing through long stretches of music again.

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almost there

That’s it, the rehearsals are over. Not only that, they are over 10 minutes early, thanks to Mihhail Gerts who generously lets the London Symphony Orchestra off the last part of his allotted time. So he certainly has the brownie points, not least because he also paid the players a massive compliment (that I didn’t catch exactly but which elicited an approving, growled “hear hear”).

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rimsky business

I have a confession: I find the first movement of Scheherazade quite the most tedious piece of music. Is it just me? Once the nice violin solo is out the way, it’s wave upon wave of unremitting string crossing and the same tune, which is only half a tune, isn’t it, when you think about it?

I think conductors like it, mind. Bar after bar of sweeping music to get stuck into, summoning one surge after another and few banana skins on the way. It suits Mihhail Gerts to the ground, and he spent part of his morning session playing through the movement without stopping. The last movement of the Stravinsky Symphony in Three Movements, although very different in character suits him too.

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