Zheng Xiaoying shares the Chinese symphony orchestra with the world

Zheng Xiaoying conducts during a performance.[Photo/CMG]

Vigorous, full of vitality and 93 years old, world-renowned Chinese conductor Zheng Xiaoying still shines on stage.

Zheng is the first female opera and symphony conductor in China. She is also the first Chinese conductor to perform in an overseas opera. To date, she has conducted over 1,600 concerts and operas in over 20 countries and regions. In her career that spans more than half a century, she has used music to nourish people’s hearts and souls.

Zheng was born in Shanghai in September 1929. By the time she graduated from high school, the Chinese People’s Liberation War was in full swing. She had planned to pursue a medical career, but then changed her path and instead traveled to the liberated parts of the country. Her youth and her passion for music helped her become a conductor in an art troupe.

Years of directing in the art troupe gave him a lot of inspiration. Zheng then studied at the composition department of the Central Conservatory of Music. After that, she pursued her dream of becoming a conductor.

In the early 1960s, Zheng was sent to the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory to study opera and symphony conducting, becoming the first professionally trained female choir conductor in China at that time.

As a student, she conducted the Italian opera “Tosca” live in a grand opera house in the Soviet Union and won a lot of applause – not only for the wonderful performance, but also for the Chinese woman on stage. Recalling this experience, Zheng said that becoming a symphony opera conductor was of great significance to her and was one of the turning points in her life.

After returning to China, she tried her best to combine Western and Eastern music. However, she ran into difficulties when she conducted the performance of the opera “La Traviata” in 1979.

The theater was noisy and the spectators could not feel the charm of the opera. According to Zheng, “It’s not that the audience quality is low, but that music education has been missed for too long.” In order to popularize classical symphony and opera works with the public, she held a 20-minute music workshop, which later became a routine for Zheng before a piece was performed.

Since the 1980s, Zheng has offered lectures on campuses and in public places. In addition to lectures and performances, in 1998 she founded the Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra. With the concept of “attracting more audiences to the concert hall to enjoy the beauty of music”, the musical ensemble has now gained worldwide recognition. It has also become a popular travel destination in Xiamen City.

Besides being a conductor, Zheng is also a teacher. As one of the most famous Chinese conducting teachers, she has taught many famous musicians.

Many of them are still active on stage, both in China and abroad. Yet, as a daughter of the Hakka people, she follows the tradition of valuing education. The Hakka culture allowed him to create a Chinese symphony titled “Echoes of Hakka Earth Building” which promotes China’s cultural achievements in the field of music. So far, the symphony has been performed 80 times in more than 12 countries and regions.

Zheng Xiaoying not only promotes Chinese symphony to the world, she also introduces traditional Chinese music. According to her, in cultural exchanges, a common language should be found in order to present China’s good works to the world. She mentioned “The Echoes of Hakka Earth Building” as an example to win a warm response among outsiders as they understand what the music expresses and become familiar with it.

Behind his brilliant performance lie his years of hard work and determination. She has battled cancer three times in the past 20 years. In 1997, he was diagnosed with rectal cancer. But nothing can prevent him from getting on the podium again.

Only a year later, she traveled to Estonia to conduct the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. When she conducted a concerto based on the famous Chinese song “Overlord Unloading Armor”, the restless melody was not only a rendition of the scene on the ancient battlefield, but also a vivid depiction of her fight against the cancer.

Zheng said the thought of spending her final seconds on the conductor’s podium would be what she calls “the most romantic” of a fulfilling career. Now 90, Zheng Xiaoying is still active on stage, sharing China with the world through her music.


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