American Council for Polish Culture - 67th Annual Convention 2015


(l. to r.) Sembrich Competition Chair Dr. Wanda O'Brien-Trefil presents the winner Katarzyna Sądej with the Marcella Kochańska Sembrich ACPC Vocal Competition plaque.

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(l. to r.) Accompanist Dr. Sławomir Dobrzański with Katarzyna Sądej after a spirited and much-applauded performance

2015 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. Each applicant must 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 submissions of the contestants are judged by three judges who are active professionals in the concert world of opera. On their recommendation, the ACPC Music Committee selected Katarzyna Sdej as the Winner of the 2015 ACPC Sembrich Competition.

Katarzyna Sdej, 31, is a mezzo-soprano, born in Wrocław, Poland, who has performed internationally in concert, opera, chamber music, oratorio and recital, and has sung numerous world premieres. Graduating summa cum laude from the University of Ottawa with a Bachelor of Music degree, Sądej completed two Master's degrees, in Vocal Arts from Bard College, and Opera Performance from the University of Toronto. Closest to Sądej's heart is specialization in Polish art song, and she often includes songs of Polish composers on her programs. Sdej teaches voice in San Diego, and is an avid recitalist, having performed in the US, Canada, France, Ukraine, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Colombia. Katarzyna is fluent in Polish, English, French, Spanish, and Italian, making her an ideal ambassador to promote the music of Polish composers internationally. From Poland, the family settled in Canada in 1989, and after meeting her tenor/attorney husband, Kasia moved to the US in 2008. Her web page is:

The Sembrich Award Concert was held on August 7th, 2015, at the Hilton Embassy Suites in Chicago. Katarzyna was accompanied by Sławomir Dobrzański. In keeping with the theme of the 2015 ACPC convention, she presented the vocal music of six Polish composers. The program featured the art songs of Fryderyk Chopin, Stanisław Moniuszko, Mieczysław Karłowicz, and Karol Szymanowski. In addition, Katarzyna sang two operatic arias, one by Stanisław Moniuszko, and another from the only opera that Paderewski composed Manru.When Manru was performed by the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York, Marcella Sembrich sang the title role. At the end of her program, Sądej lightened the mood with three tangos by Jerzy Peterburski. The audience responded with a standing ovation, and sat back down in their seats, refusing to leave. The enthusiastic crowd requested that as an encore, she repeat the last two Peterburski tangos, which Katarzyna sang to a second standing ovation.

The concert was crowned by presentation of the award plaque by Music Committee Chair, Dr. Wanda O'Brien-Trefil, flowers by Convention Chair, Dr. Jarosław Gołembiowski, and the $2,000 award check by ACPC President Mary Ellen Tyszka. The 2016 ACPC Sembrich competition will again offer a $2,000 prize, and the opportunity to concertize, 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. Requirements and application can be found on the ACPC website


Dr. Jarosław Gołembiowski (Convention Chair), Mary Ellen Tyszka (ACPC President), Dr. Sławomir Dobrzański (Accompanist),
Katarzyna Sądej (Vocalist), Dr. Wanda O'Brien-Trefil (Music Committee Chair) and Alicia Dutka (Music Committee Member)


Katarzyna Sądej explains the background of the song


The Marcella Sembrich Kochańska Award Plaque


Katarzyna Sądej during performance

The ACPC Marcella Kochańska Sembrich competition honors the Polish born soprano who lived 1858-1935. The lives of Marcella Kochańska Sembrich and Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) intersected several times, influenced by their enormous musical talents, the events of WWI and WWII, and the welcome they found in the United States. They formed a friendship early in Poland, with Paderewski serving as accompanist at Sembrich's concerts. In 1883, Sembrich came to the United States to sing with the newly formed Metropolitan Opera. While in the US, Paderewski composed his only opera, Manru, performed in 1902, with Sembrich singing the leading role.

Both Sembrich and Paderewski worked on behalf of Poland during WWI, with Paderewski capturing the ear of Woodrow Wilson and signing the Treaty of Versailles, which restored an independent Poland. Sembrich was President of the American-Polish Relief Committee of New York, raising money, food, and clothes for her beloved Poland. After many years performing at the Met, and teaching at Curtis Institute as well as Julliard School of Music, in 1915 Sembrich purchased a woodland retreat on Lake George in New York, where she taught. Her estate at Lake George actively upholds her legacy as The Sembrich Museum The Polish Museum of America in Chicago holds memorabilia of both Sembrich and Paderewski.

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 [Arrow Picture]