American Council for Polish Culture - 66th Annual Convention 2014

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(l. to r.) Dr. Jaroslaw Golembiowski, Music Chair Dr. Wanda O'Brien-Trefil, President Mary Ellen Tyszka, soloist Alexandra Nowakowski, and Alicia Dutka.

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A passionate performance by Alexandra Nowakowski. She is a resident artist at the Academy of the Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.

2014 ACPC Marcella Kochańska Sembrich Vocal Award

by Dr. Wanda O’Brien-Trefil

For over 40 years, the ACPC has been recognizing the achievements of Polish-born operatic soprano Marcella Kochańska Sembrich with a national vocal competition. The outreach for competitors included the 15 states that hold the 30 ACPC organizations and affiliates. Each applicant had to be of Polish origin, in the early stages of an operatic career, with exceptional promise to follow in the footsteps of Marcella Kochańska Sembrich. The Winner of the 2014 Sembrich competition is Alexandra Nowakowski, and she has demonstrated the talent and motivation to do just that.

Alexandra Nowakowski is a 22 year old soprano from Palatine, Illinois, and a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. At the University of Illinois, Alexandra was the recipient of numerous awards and scholarships. She made her operatic role debut with the Lyric Opera Studio Weimar, and her professional operatic debut with the Baroque Artists of Champagne-Urbana. Ms. Nowakowski was also distinguished in several competitions. She has received 2nd place in the Hal Leonard Vocal Competition, and an Encouragement Award at the District Metropolitan Opera Auditions in Iowa in 2014.

As a competitor, Alexandra was required to submit a family tree to demonstrate her Polish roots, and also to sing some of the audition selections in Polish. This was an easy challenge for Alexandra, since her father was born in Warsaw, and mother in Tarnów. Her parents immigrated to the United States in 1986 and settled in St. Louis, Missouri, where Alexandra was born. They kept close ties with the Polish community, and Alexandra speaks Polish fluently. When the family moved to Chicago, Alexandra attended the Fryderyk Chopin Polish School in Palatine, Illinois for ten years, and passed her Matura in 2009. As a child, Alexandra spent summers in Poland visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

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Dr. Wanda O’Brien-Trefil to accompanies Alexandra Nowakowski in Jerzy Petersburski’s nostalgic tango “Ostatnia Niedziela.”


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Alexandra Nowakowski (center), with accompanist Jianna Yu and Dr. Wanda O’Brien-Trefil


The Sembrich Award Concert was held on July 31st, Thursday evening at the Montante Cultural Center of Canisius College in Buffalo. This recital hall is a renovated church which provided excellent acoustics for Alexandra’s soaring voice. The first half of her program featured art songs of Fryderyk Chopin and transcriptions of Chopin’s Mazurkas by Pauline Viradot. The “Huit Chansons Polonaises” (Eight Polish songs) by Francis Poulenc were a great discovery for the audience. These were eight Polish folk songs, for which Poulenc created accompaniments, and dedicated each to a different Polish lady. After Intermission, came the operatic selections that clearly identified Alexandra’s ability to aspire to the great Marcella Kochańska Sembrich. Alexandra sang operatic arias from Bellini’s “I Puritani”, Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliette”, and Massenet’s “Manon”. The demanding performance was accompanied by pianist Jianna Yu, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois. As an encore, Alexandra invited the competition chair, Dr. Wanda O’Brien-Trefil to accompany her in Jerzy Petersburski’s nostalgic tango “Ostatnia Niedziela.”

The concert was crowned by presentation of the award plaque by Music Committee Chair, Dr. Wanda O’Brien-Trefil, the $2,000 award by President Mary Ellen Tyszka, and flowers by Alicia Dutka, former chair of the Music Committee. For the 2014-2015 season, Alexandra will continue her operatic studies at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia as a resident artist. www.alexandranowakowski.com

The 2015 ACPC Sembrich competition will again offer a $2,000 prize to male and female competitors to age 35, in early stages of career development, and not under professional management. To audition, each competitor must submit a 30-minute DVD or CD, singing operatic and art songs in several languages, including Polish. The Music Committee judges the submissions, with the artistic consultation of Ms. Edyta Kulczak, Polish-born mezzo-soprano who performs with the Metropolitan Opera www.edytakulczak.com. Requirements and application can be found on the ACPC website www.polishcultureacpc.org.

The ACPC Marcella Kochańska Sembrich competition honors the Polish born soprano who lived 1858-1935. Although born poor, she became an accomplished pianist, violinist, and singer. When she sang for Franz Liszt, he suggested that of all her talents, she should continue to “sing for the world, for you have the voice of an angel.” Marcella concertized in Warsaw, with Ignacy Jan Paderewski as her accompanist. By the age of 22 she created a sensation singing in London’s Covent Garden, and in 1883 came to the US to sing 450 performances at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Of her performance as Mimi in “La Boheme,” Giacomo Puccini said “You are the Mimi.” Sembrich taught at Julliard School of Music, the Curtis Institute of Music, and at her teaching studio at Lake George, NY, which remains preserved in her memory www.thesembrich.org.


Founded in 1948, the American Council for Polish Culture, Inc. (ACPC) is a national non-profit, charitable, cultural and educational organization that serves as a network and body of national leadership among affiliated Polish American cultural organizations throughout the United States. The council represents the interests of some 21 affiliated organizations located in the 15 states and the District of Columbia. The ACPC is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charitable and educational entity. The ACPC's mission of promoting Polish culture, art and heritage, is supported through numerous programs, initiatives, and scholarship programs. Further information can be found on the ACPC web site at www.polishcultureacpc.org [Arrow Picture]