Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra founder - Zheng Xiaoying

Updated: 20 Jul 2008
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Zheng Xiaoying


Zheng Xiaoying, who is in her late 70s, is well known as China's first female conductor. She worked as the chief conductor for National Opera of China. After retirement, Zheng Xiaoying set up a privately-run Orchestra in Xiamen City to continue her music career.


Zheng Xiaoying, famous for her passionate and delicate conducting style, is regarded as one of the most outstanding music directors in China. Born in 1929, her passion for music was lit in Jingling Women's University in Nanjing when she was 18. A year later, she joined the liberation war and worked in a song and dance ensemble in Henan province. According to Zheng Xiaoying, that was where she started her conducting career.


"In the troupe, one time all my colleagues got together to practice singing. Since some of them could not read music, I taught them a few skills to sing more accurately. Then they thought I was good at music and asked me to be the conductor."

However, as Zheng Xiaoying had never received any professional training in conducting, she described her performance at that time as "blind". Then in the 1950s, Zheng Xiaoying had the chance to learn about professional conducting. When studying in the Central Conservatory of Music, she was chosen to join a special conducting class held by experts from the Soviet Union.

"At that time, there were about 20 students in the class, and I was the only female. I'm the first female music director in China who has received professional training."


From then on, Zheng Xiaoying's skills in conducting kept improving and she became the conductor for many important concerts. In 1993, she also formed the Female Philharmonic Orchestra and performed around world. Her enthusiasm for music gained her respect from members of the orchestra. Situ Zhiwen is one of them.


"She is the kind of person who never gives up her dream. In 1995, it was through her effort that we got to perform in the World Conference on Women. After the performance, some audience members told us that we were the pride not only of Chinese women, but all women of the world."


Meanwhile, Zheng Xiaoying's elegant image also helped her gain a good reputation. She attaches great importance to her appearance as a conductor.


"The music director in an orchestra is just like the commander of a troop. So it is very important to have a graceful image. Some western female conductors like to dress like men, but I think that means they are not confident enough. So I always wear long skirts."


Because of her passionate conducting style and elegant looks, Zheng Xiaoying was nominated as the chief conductor of National Opera of China in Beijing. She has cooperated with many famous domestic orchestras for concerts and has won various awards both in China and in foreign countries. Her representative works include Chinese symphonies Song of the Grassland, Butterfly Lovers, as well as French opera Carmen.


After retiring from the National Opera of China in 1997, Zheng founded Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra in Fujian province to continue her musical life.


"The best thing about Xiamen is that I can run the orchestra according to my way. It makes rapid progress. We spend 5 hours a day rehearsing and we practice a new program each week. The style varies from classical to contemporary, from western to eastern."


After about 10 years of development, Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra has become China's leading orchestra with world-wide recognition. The success can be attributed to Zheng Xiaoying's personal charisma as well as the growing number of young musicians in the orchestra who love what they do. Huang Tiwen, the lead violinist, said they have learnt a lot from their strict but kind-hearted conductor.


"Professor Zheng is a very easy-going person. She is very strict during rehearsals, especially when it comes to fine details. She emphasizes the most on the emotions evoked by each musical piece. After rehearsals, she would chat and have fun with us like our granny."


Led by Zheng Xiaoying, musicians from Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra have given hundreds of performances in about 30 cities in China. Recently, the epic work called "The Echoes of Hakka Earth Buildings" has won world-wide acclaim. Zheng Xiaoying explains this symphony.


"This symphony is an epic tale about the historic struggles of the people from Kejia ethnic minority community. They united and struggled to pass down Chinese culture. The musical showcases the spirit of the whole nation. We used local chorus performers in about 40 cities around the world. Foreign audience members from Japan, France and Germany all liked it very much!"


"The Echoes of Hakka Earth Buildings" is a classical example of the fusion of the west and the east. The work combines Chinese traditional music and Kejia dialect and western musical style.


Nowadays, some Chinese conductors prefer to perform western classical works abroad to show that they are of the world-class standard. However, Zheng Xiaoying says although symphony in China is still quite young there are many outstanding works.


"Chinese symphonies are not inferior to western ones. I always include Chinese works on my tours especially when I go abroad. I want westerners to know what Chinese artists are doing and what kind of symphonies we have created. This is Chinese people's contribution to the global cultural treasure."


Zheng Xiaoying is also one of the Xiamen torchbearers for the upcoming Olympics.


On May 12, with cheering from local Xiamen citizens, Zheng Xiaoying completed her run as a torchbearer. She considers this a great honor.


"As everyone knows, the torch has been passed through the hands of outstanding people all over the world. I think it is a great honor that it was in my hands for a while. The eyes of the world were on us. It is a symbol of the pride and achievement of the Chinese people. It embodies unification, peace, improvement, friendship and a harmonious society."


To contribute more to the Olympic Games, Zheng Xiaoying is set to bring "The Echoes of Hakka Earth Buildings" to Beijing in the near future as a celebration. In her words, this musical epic showcases the essence of Chinese culture.




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