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Donald Nally

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Name  Donald Nally

Role  Conductor
Donald Nally wwwmusicnorthwesterneduimagesfacultydonaldn
Books  Conversations with Joseph Flummerfelt: Thoughts on Conducting, Music, and Musicians
Education  Westminster Choir College, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
Similar People  The Crossing, Piffaro - The Renaissance Band, Lewis Spratlan, Gabriel Jackson, Scott Dettra

Words adorned donald nally and hanna khoury

Donald Nally (born December 27, 1960) is an American conductor, opera chorus master, and professor of conducting at Northwestern University, specializing in chamber choirs and new music. He currently conducts two professional chamber choirs: The Crossing in Philadelphia, and the Chicago Bach Choir, the vocal ensemble of the Chicago Bach Project.


Nally has collaborated on opera and concert music with many of the world’s conductors and directors, including Carlo Rizzi, Richard Hickox, Vladimir Jurowski, Sir Charles Mackerras, Markus Stenz, Gian Carlo Menotti, David Pountney, Richard Jones, Carlos Saura, John Caird, Giulio Chazalettes, Robert Spano, Andrew Davis, Bruno Bartoletti, John Nelson, Peter Sellars, Elijah Moshinsky, David McVicar, Neil Armfield, Renata Scotto, Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming, and Francesca Zambello.

He has conducted the Latvian State Choir, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, Musica Pacifica, Coro Vico Alto of Siena, the Siena International Choral Festival, Chicago Choral Artists, and The Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia.

Nally has prepared choirs for the Philharmonia Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra (including the world premiere of Hannibal’s One Heart Beating), the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, Illinois Opera Theater, Westminster Opera Theater, Brattleboro Opera, the Luciano Pavarotti International Vocal Competition Galas, Il Festival dei Due Mondi, and Spoleto USA. His opera choruses have sung in opera houses around the world.

Early life and education

Nally was born in Hilltown, Pennsylvania, and educated at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (BM, music education), Westminster Choir College (MM, choral conducting), and the University of Illinois (DMA, choral conducting). He has been Artist in Residence at Washington and Lee University and Shorter University, has been on the faculty of the University of Illinois, and has been guest lecturer at Indiana University and the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.


After graduating from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 1983, Nally became head of the music department at The Chicago Academy for the Arts, Chicago's performing arts high school. He left this position to move to Princeton and study at Westminster Choir College.

From 1992-1996, he was on the conducting faculty at West Chester University.

From 1992-2003 he was chorus master at Opera Company of Philadelphia, collaborating on over 40 productions.

From 1994-2001 he was Chorus Master of the Spoleto Festival, Italy, where he collaborated on over twenty operas and conducted nearly one hundred concerts, including the Italian premieres of works of Huber, Musto, Convery, MacMillan, and Pärt. An Opera News review of the 2001 recording of Menotti's The Saint of Bleecker Street (Chandos/Hickox) noted, “most remarkable is the superb singing of the Spoleto Festival Chorus.” During this time, the Spoleto Festival Chorus was known as the Bridge Ensemble in Philadelphia, presenting two concert seasons and a number of commissioned premieres. Nally returned with the Spoleto Festival Choir in 2007 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the festival and to honor the life and work of its founder Gian Carlo Menotti, who died in February of that year.

From 1997-2004 he was Music Director at Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia, building the choir to be one of the premiere ensembles of the city in collaboration with organist Scott Dettra (now organist at Washington National Cathedral), invited to sing services and concerts for national gatherings of the American Guild of Organists and the Lutheran Association of Church Musicians as well as the 100th anniversary of the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. The choir was particularly noted for new music and was instrumental in bringing James MacMillan to the city in 2002 for a festival of his music in collaboration with the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 2002, a Philadelphia music critic named him “the choral czar of Philadelphia.”

Nally’s first professional chamber choir was The Bridge Ensemble which sang concerts 1996-1997; though it failed financially, it established a significant presence in Philadelphia, receiving a great amount of critical attention and laying the groundwork for the success of The Crossing. As a result of The Bridge Ensemble, Nally was featured in Philadelphia’s Seven Arts Magazine as one of the Rising Stars of Philadelphia. In 1997, the Bridge Ensemble recorded the CD Music of Longing and Lament, which was featured a number of times on Public Radio’s broadcast “The First Art.”

From 1998-2002, he was Artistic Director of the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia, during which time the chorus received Chorus America’s 2002 Margaret Hillis National Award for Excellence and was chosen as “The Best of Philadelphia” by Philadelphia Magazine. At this time The Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia was also the recipient of a Cultural Leadership Award from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The ensemble toured Italy in the summer of 2000, singing in Florence, Venice, and Spoleto. Nally formed the Choral Arts Society Chamber Choir during this time, which collaborated with the American Composers Forum (Philadelphia Chapter), on readings and recordings of new music.

At the end of 2002, Nally left Philadelphia and moved to Wales to become the chorus master at Welsh National Opera.


As chorus master at Welsh National Opera from 2003–2007, he conducted the Welsh National Opera chorus and orchestra in Cardiff and on tour in throughout England and Northern Ireland. He conducted the award-winning production of Handel’s Jephtha – a collaboration with director Katie Mitchell – that was listed as No. 2 on The Sunday Times' “Must-see Operas.” With director David Pountney he created Chorus!, a popular revue featuring the chorus and orchestra that has seen revivals at WNO as well as a new production at Houston Grand Opera. With the WNO chorus and orchestra, Nally conducted an acclaimed performance of Handel’s Messiah and collaborated with James MacMillan on a concert of the composer's works.


Nally returned to the United States to become the chorus master for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. In 2008, the Chorus of Lyric Opera of Chicago presented the first concert of their 60-year history, “Holly and Ivy.” The Chicago Sun-Times noted it “set a new high bar for downtown choral performance and programming” in its Top Classical Events of 2008

Nally conducted VAE: Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble from 2009 to 2013, presenting a number of regional premieres during that time, including David Lang’s 2008 Pulitzer-winning "The Little Match Girl Passion," and Francis Pott’s "My song is love unknown." With VAE, Nally collaborated with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and concert:nova, performing in the great spaces of Cincinnati. VAE’s performance of James MacMillan’s Seven Lasts Words from the Cross was named one of the Top Classical Events of 2010 by Their concerts were regularly broadcast on the Cincinnati's Public Radio.

The Crossing

The ensemble began in 2005 when Nally and a group of friends sang an informal concert together. At the end of the 2010-11 season, Nally left Lyric Opera of Chicago and moved back to Philadelphia to focus on his Philadelphia ensemble, The Crossing, which specializes in contemporary works. The Crossing has evoked overwhelming critical response from the Philadelphia newspapers, calling Nally "a musical treasure whose local ties should be maintained and sustained at all costs", and the ensemble "an answered prayer" to Philadelphia musicians.

In 2009, The Crossing gave the opening concert for Chorus America’s National Conference in Philadelphia. It has received the 2009 and 2011 ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming from Chorus America. The Crossing has produced four recordings to date: Kile Smith's "Vespers" – with Piffaro, The Renaissance Band; "It Is Time," a collection of new works on words of Philip Levine (U.S. Poet Laureate 2011-12) and Paul Celan, including works (commissioned by The Crossing) by Kirsten Broberg, Paul Fowler, David Shapiro, and Kile Smith; "I want to live," with the complete works for women's ensemble by David Lang and treble works by Paul Fowler and William Brooks; and "Christmas Daybreak," featuring the world premiere recording of James MacMillan's "Alpha and Omega." In addition to these composers, the Crossing has commissioned works by Benjamin C.S. Boyle, Kamran Ince, David Lang, Andrew Gant, Lewis Spratlan (co-commissioned with Philadelphia’s Network for New Music), and Joby Talbot and has presented American premieres of works by Ešenvalds, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Bo Holten, Erhard Karkoschka, James MacMillan, and Francis Pott.

Additionally, Nally has conducted world premieres with his other ensembles of works by Jake Heggie, John Musto, Neely Bruce, and Gian Carlo Menotti. The Crossing counts among its collaborators International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, and Piffaro, The Renaissance Band. David Patrick Stearns, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, has called The Crossing “Philadelphia’s best chorus”; it has been named to the Inquirer’s Top Ten Classical Events of 2008 and 2009. The Philadelphia Classical and Jazz Radio Station WRTI began broadcasting all of The Crossing’s concerts in December 2011. The Crossing has been the recipient of three major grants from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Music Project and was awarded a 2013 Knight Foundation Arts Challenge Grant. The ensemble has a relationship with the Metropolitan Museum of Art where it performs on their December concert series and will make its Carnegie Hall debut in Zankel Hall with the American Composers' Orchestra in February 2014.

Northwestern University

In September 2012, Nally joined the faculty of the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois as a tenured professor and director of choral organizations. He was appointed following the retirement of longtime professor Dr. Robert A. Harris, who held the position for the 35 years previous to Nally's appointment. Upon arriving in Evanston in the fall of 2012 Nally founded the chamber choir BCE, a premier group of 26 singers dedicated to performing choral music of the 21st century and drawing relationships to its polyphonic roots in early music – primarily that of the Renaissance.

In 2013, Nally rehearsed Howard Hanson's Song of Democracy, which sets texts from various poems of Walt Whitman. An African American student objected to performing the work because he claimed Whitman was racist. Nally told the student he would receive a failing grade if he did not perform the work. The student claimed that a failing grade would have led to the loss of his scholarship.

Awards and distinctions

  • 2013 Dale Warland Singers Commission Award from Chorus America (The Crossing)
  • 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award from Westminster Choir College
  • 2012 Lois Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal from Chorus America
  • 2011 ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming from Chorus America (The Crossing)
  • 2010 Top Classical Events of Cincinnati – VAE (
  • 2009 Distinguished Alumnus of Pennridge High School, Perkasie, Pennsylvania
  • 2009 ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming from Chorus America (The Crossing)
  • 2009 Best Classical Events in Philadelphia – The Crossing (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • 2008 Best Classical Events in Chicago – Lyric Opera Chorus’ “Holly and Ivy” concert (Chicago Sun-Times)
  • 2008 Best Classical Events in Philadelphia – The Crossing (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • 2002 Margaret Hillis National Award for Excellence in Choral Music (Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia)
  • 2002 Best of Philadelphia (Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia)
  • 1997 nominee from the University of Illinois for American Choral Director’s Julius Herford Prize for Outstanding Doctoral Terminal Research Project in Choral Music (won that year by Richard Sparks of the University of Cincinnati)
  • 1997 Rising Star, Seven Arts Magazine, Philadelphia
  • Works

  • "Gian Carlo Menotti: A Centennial Tribute", Voice Prints: Journal of the New York Teachers’ of Singing Association (January–February 2011).
  • Conversations with Joseph Flummerfelt: Thoughts on Conducting, Music and Musicians, Scarecrow Press, 2010.
  • "To immerse myself in words: Text and Music in the Choral Works of Samuel Barber." DMA dissertation, University of Illinois, 1995.
  • "Barber's Op. 42: The poetry and music as key to his musical animus; Part I: Laurie Lee's Twelfth Night; Part II: Louise Bogan's To be sung on the water." Choral Journal 47.4 (October 2006).
  • Print

  • Antman, Rachel. What the Lyric Looks for: an interview with Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Chorus Master Donald Nally, Classical Singer, April 2009.
  • Radio

  • WRTI Philadelphia: Creatively Speaking with Jim Cotter, July 23, 2011
  • WFMT Chicago: Critical Thinking with Andrew Patner, January 26, 2009
  • WHYY Philadelphia: Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane – on The Crossing’s Month of Moderns, May 15, 2009
  • 1000 Times No: Podcast with Jenn Yuan, February 19, 2007
  • WHYY Philadelphia: Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane – on leaving Philadelphia, December 2003
  • WHYY Philadelphia: Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane – with composer David Shapiro and poet Philip Levine, May 2000
  • Discography

  • "I want to live: contemporary works for women's choir", The Crossing (Innova Records, 2013)
  • "Christmas Daybreak", The Crossing (Innova Records, 2013)
  • It Is Time, The Crossing (Navona Records, 2011)
  • Kile Smith, Vespers, Piffaro, The Renaissance Band and The Crossing (Navona Records, 2008)
  • Gian Carlo Menotti, The Saint of Bleecker Street, Choir and Orchestra of the Festival dei Due Mondi (Chandos, 2002)
  • Gian Carlo Menotti, Cantatas, Choir and Orchestra of the Festival dei Due Mondi (Chandos, 2002)
  • Choral Music of Longing and Lament, The Bridge Ensemble (Bridge Ensemble, 1997)
  • References

    Donald Nally Wikipedia