Born in Wiesbaden. He studied at the Frankfurt and Freiburg conservatory. After graduating in piano, conducting and composition, Zender gathered his first theatrical experience as a conductor in Freiburg. After filling several leading positions in Bonn, Kiel and with the Saarland Broadcasting Corporation, he worked as musical director at Hamburg as well as at the Hamburg State Opera from 1984 to 1987. This was followed ba his work as chief conductor of the Radio Kamerorkest of the durch Broadcasting corporation from 1987 to 1990.
Since 1988, he has been professor of composition at the State Academy for Music and Interpretative Arts in Frankfurt/Main. In 1989 he became member of the "Akademie der Kuenste" (Academy of the Arts) in Berlin and in 1994 member of the "Bayrische Akademie der Schoenen Kuenste" (Bavarian Academy of the Fine Arts) in Munich. 1997 he was awarded the Frankfurt music Prize and the Goethe Prize of the city of Frankfurt.
Since 1999 he is regular visiting conductor and member of the artistic direction of the SWR Baden-Baden and Freiburg Symphony orchestra. His most important compositions include the operas "Stephen Climax" (1979/84) and "Don Quijote de la mancha" (1989/91) as well as "Shir Hashirim - Lied der Lieder" (1992/1996) and "Bardo" (2000).