Questions of Practice: Conductor Donald Nally and Violinist Hanna Khoury on Blending Musical Traditions

The Crossing conductor Donald Nally and violinist, Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture music director, and Pew Fellow Hanna Khoury discuss their experiences of blending musical languages and traditions in a performance that brought together a classical Arab chamber ensemble and a Western choir. Unlike Western music, Arabic music “relies very much on the oral tradition,” Khoury explains. “If you have musical sheets [in Arabic music], they are mostly confined to the idea of a skeletal structure that needs all of these embellishments.”

Conductor Donald Nally and violinist Hanna Khoury on blending musical traditions. Filmed at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage on December 7, 2015.

With Center support, Al-Bustan premiered two new compositions by Arab-American composers Kareem Roustom and Pew Fellow Kinan Abou-afach, inspired by Andalusian poetry, during a concert in December 2015 with soloist Dalal Abu Amneh and The Crossing, as part of Words Adorned: Andalusian Poetry and Music.

Hanna Khoury is a violinist trained in the classical traditions of Arab and Western music. A 2013 Pew Fellow, Khoury is music director of Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, and directs the Arab Music ensemble at the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a PhD candidate in Ethnomusicology at the University of Pennsylvania exploring popular culture and nationalism. As a performer, Khoury continues to collaborate with a number of prominent artists including Mandy Patinkin, in addition to solo engagements and residencies throughout the country.

Donald Nally is conductor of The Crossing, a professional chamber choir focused on new music. He is director of choral organizations at Northwestern University and chorus master of The Chicago Bach Project. Nally has held tenures as chorus master for Lyric Opera of Chicago, Welsh National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Spoleto USA, and for many seasons at the Spoleto Festival in Italy.


“I don’t think accessibility is something separate from excellence…it all has to be excellent,” says David Devan, Opera Philadelphia general director and president.

Warriors of the Wonderful Sound presented this project as part of Montgomery County Community College’s Lively Arts Series, commissioning new works from saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Coleman.

The ICA presents choreographer and performance artist taisha paggett’s counts orchestrate, a meadow (or weekly practice with breath).

Grants & Grantees

Teresa Jaynes is a visual artist and a 1999 Pew Fellow.

Michael Djupstrom premieres a new piano quintet at the 2016 National Cherry Blossom Festival, Beth Kephart and Caroline Lathan-Stiefel display works at the Philadelphia International Airport, and The New York Times reviews Chris Forsyth’s new album.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Founded in 2013 by Michał Zadara, Centrala is a theater company based in Warsaw, Poland.

Grants & Grantees

Experimental music presenter Ars Nova Workshop produced five recordings on the record label High Two.

Grants & Grantees

Theatre Exile produced the Philadelphia premiere of Martin McDonagh’s darkly comic bloodbath.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Rochelle Steiner is a curator, writer, public art producer, and professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California in the Roski School of Art and Design, where she was dean from 2010 to 2012. In 2015, Steiner served as a panelist in Exhibitions & Public Interpretation.

The Wagner Free Institute of Science is is a natural history museum dedicated to providing free public education in science.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Christoph Cox is Professor of Philosophy at Hampshire College. He is the author of Nietzsche: Naturalism and Interpretation (California, 1999), and co-editor of Realism Materialism Art (Sternberg, 2015) and Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music (Continuum, 2004).

Elevator Repair Service’s John Collins on why his theater ensemble embraces “a blissful ignorance” at the outset of a new project.