A significant American operatic and choral conductor for many years, Donald Nally became prominent in the world of contemporary music with the formation of his small choir the Crossing.
Nally was born in Hilltown, Pennsylvania, on December 27, 1960. He attended the University of Cincinnati Conservatory, majoring in music education, but switched to conducting for his Master's from Westminster Choir College, and to the University of Illinois for his doctorate. For most of his career, Nally has combined academic posts with the leadership of professional choirs. He served as artist-in-residence at Shorter University and Washington and Lee University before forming his first choir, the Bridge Ensemble, in 1996. Though the group was disbanded for financial reasons, its performances in the Philadelphia area were popular and led to Nally's appointment as artistic director of the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia in 1998. Remaining there until 2002, Nally then left the U.S. for a stint at the Welsh National Opera, and also directed choirs for performances by the Philharmonia Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Britain. Nally took a post as chorus master of the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2006 and also founded a second small choir, the Crossing, that year. The Crossing grew out of an informal performance by Nally and a group of his friends, and it rapidly gained a strong reputation for its adventurous programming. In 2010 Nally found it impractical to continue both his work in Chicago and his leadership of the Crossing, and moved back to Philadelphia to focus on the latter. With the Crossing, Nally has recorded for the Innova, Navona, Albany, and ECM labels. In 2012 he formed a third small choral group, BCE (Binen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble), dedicated to the exploration of connections between 21st century music and music of the Renaissance.
Nally is a professor at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University. Nominated twice for Grammy awards, he won the Best Choral Performance Grammy in 2018 for his album The Fifth Century. That year also saw the release of Nally's album If There Were Water, with the Crossing, featuring works by Stratis Minakakis and Gregory W. Brown, on Innova.