Martin Sędek’s ‘swan song’ with Choral Art Society of NJ will feature music of Haydn brothers

martin sedek interview

Martin Sędek, music director of Choral Art Society of New Jersey.

It’s the end of an era for Choral Art Society of New Jersey. After 12 years at the helm, music director Martin Sędek will take his final bow. The send-off will be on May 4 at the Presbyterian Church in Westfield with an imaginative program of early classical repertory titled “The Brothers Haydn.”

Sędek calls it his “swan song” and wants to make it as memorable as possible. “The group has really meant a lot to me over the years, so I’m trying to do everything I can to make sure we go out with a bang and everyone feels great about it,” he says.

While the occasion is bittersweet, the program will be celebratory. A full chorus, orchestra and four soloists will perform exuberant choral masterworks by the Haydn brothers: Joseph’s Lord Nelson Mass and Te Deum, and Michael’s Mass in C Major.

Classical music gifts often run in families — the Strausses, the Mozarts, the Mendelssohns, the Dvořáks, the Gershwins — and the Haydn brothers are no exception. The prolific siblings from Austria composed sacred and secular music during the Age of Enlightenment. Joseph was born in 1732 and Michael followed in 1737.

Joseph’s literature recounts a witty man of upbeat humor, and much of his music carries the same irresistible charm. His popular symphonies, of which there are a head-spinning 107, are sprawling and grand. He was a composer of immense significance and one of the key musical figures, alongside Mozart, who exemplified the classical style.

Michael was also a musical genius and a gifted chorister. His sacred choral and liturgical works are generally more intimate and devotional than his brother’s. However, his pieces go largely unperformed, his manuscripts gathering dust.

“Michael feels relegated to the shadow of his older brother, Joseph, who wrote an absolutely massive ton of music,” Sędek says. “But when you look at Michael’s output, it is not that much smaller and I wanted to shine a spotlight on that.”

Despite their differences, there was little competition between them. In fact, Joseph, who was Kapellmeister for the noble Esterházy family for more than five decades, used his vast influence and popularity to secure prominent positions and commissions for his brother.

“They were so close and such good friends throughout their lives,” Sędek says. “They weren’t rivals. From what we know, they didn’t harbor any sort of resentments toward each other. They were good friends and helped each other out, and I think that part of the story is really meaningful as well.”


The close relationship between the Haydn siblings is echoed by the deep familial connections Sędek has made with the Westfield-based community chorus.

“I don’t know if I did it subconsciously that way,” he says, “but I think the subtext of fraternity definitely plays into the theme. Having this concert not only ties into that, but also goes back to the roots of what this organization was founded for and designed to do by looking at these traditional and seminal masterpieces. For my last concert, I wanted to have a sense of homecoming, going back to our roots of performing these classical masterpieces.”

Two works on the program were written in the traditionally festive and cheerful key signature of C major: Joseph’s Te Deum and Michael’s Mass in C Major.

Michael’s six-movement work scored for mixed choir and soloists is jubilant and bright with high-pitched energy. It opens with a majestic allegro tutti, and even the contemplative adagio and andante movements end with triumphant allegros.

Joseph’s grand choral drama, Te Deum, dates from an artistic period late in his career marked by masterful writing. Instrumentation calls for a large orchestra with additional trumpets and trombones for a bit of pep. Two brilliant allegro passages surround a central adagio, and a spectacular double fugue closes the work.

It premiered in 1800 at the same concert as the Lord Nelson Mass, originally titled “Missa in angustiis.” It takes its nickname from the British admiral and naval hero Horatio Nelson, whose forces defeated Napoleon in The Battle of the Nile, and for whom the concert was performed.

Though this masterwork is a staple of the repertoire, this will be the first time Sędek conducts it with the choir.



Four guest vocalists will include soprano Christina Nicastro, a native of Dunellen and a resident of Indianapolis. In 2021, she and Sędek recorded an album, Art Songs, Vol. 1, with her on voice and him on composition and piano accompaniment.

“She and I have been friends and colleagues since before my appointment with CAS and she’s sung with us a few times over the years, so it’s special for me to know I’m going to have her with me for my last concert,” he says.

The three other soloists — lyric mezzo-soprano Elise Miller, tenor Michael Anderson and bass Giuseppe Annunziato — will perform with Sędek for the first time.

Many friends and acquaintances will be among a full orchestra of around 30 musicians, which is not always the case. Using a pick-up orchestra would have meant Sędek would have been working with roughly half the musicians for the first time. This would have presented challenges, he says, “because we only have a couple rehearsals to pull all of this together, so it makes me especially happy for the last concert to have people who’ve played with Choral Art over the years. It’s going to feel like a big happy reunion when we’re all together.”

Sędek leaves CAS on good terms. His tenure oversaw a clear vision for growth. Dynamic artistic direction included expanded repertoire choices and robust shifts in community engagement. “Coming out of the pandemic, we got a little more adventurous with the programing and we’ve been branching out,” he says.

Milestones included an immersive staging of “Carmina Burana” with Latticeworks Dance Collective’s original choreography to accompany Carl Orff’s scenic cantata. Another highlight was an intergenerational concert of John Rutter’s “Mass of the Children” and Bob Chilcott’s “Circlesong” with the New Jersey Youth Chorus.

Sędek also noted a Saint-Saëns’ “Oratorio de Noël” concert from 2022, which represented the first time CAS had organized a holiday progam after a long absence, even before he came aboard.

He is proud to have set up the organization to succeed in their next chapter and for them to continue the momentum he built.

“We’ve had the largest membership growth coming out of the pandemic,” he says. “And the quality of the choir and the singers is the highest right now, so I’m happy to be leaving the group in the strongest shape.”

This has not been the case for many performing arts organizations across the nation. The pandemic accelerated long-term changes in audience behavior and operational costs have risen nationwide.

Choral Art Society of New Jersey was founded in 1962. The nonprofit of about 50 volunteer singers is dedicated to the study and staging of choral masterpieces of all genres and eras.

Sędek oversaw a minimum of two concerts every season, often with a full orchestra and soloists. In addition to the concerts, the choir meets for rehearsals weekly. There is an annual picnic, fundraisers and other social events. “Everybody gets to know each other, and it really becomes a special family,” he says.

One of his notable contributions to the choir was introducing a more integrated style of singing.

“I wanted to approach singing in a more holistic way,” he says. “When I came along with the group, that kind of philosophy was fairly new to them. I wanted to get them thinking about how their physicality and mentality factors into the sound of the ensemble — that the involvement of the physiology, psychology and spirituality of their instrument all go into singing and music-making.”

He will continue to push boundaries when he embarks on his new chapter as music director of Masterwork Chorus, a nonprofit chorus founded in 1955 and based in Chatham.

Masterwork stages three major concerts each season. They are best known for their annual performances of Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall, which began in 1961. When Sędek starts in September, he will be their fifth music director and the youngest in their history.


Sędek was born in Germany in 1985 and raised in Poland and the United States. He graduated from Berklee College of Music and holds a doctorate from Rutgers and a master’s from Montclair State University, where, upon graduation, he became assistant choir director and professor from 2011 to 2021.

He is also the artistic director of Vocala Ensemble; director of music at St. Bernard’s Episcopal Church in Bernardsville; and director of music and art at Keio Academy in Purchase, New York.

“It always looks like a lot on paper, but I consider myself extremely fortunate because I’m able to jigsaw all of these roles together into what I’d describe as two total, full-time jobs,” he says.

The multifaceted artist is also a regularly commissioned and performed composer of choral and orchestral music, mostly with regional choirs.

Like the great composer-conductors before him — Leonard Bernstein and Esa-Pekka Salonen, for example — the title is fluid.

“I’m always going to be both,” he says. “But one of the things that makes me hold CAS and the board of directors so dear to my heart is that every few years, they’d say to me, ‘Hey, it’s been two years since we last did something of yours, so let’s put something on the program!’ So every few years, I got to do something big with an orchestra with them, which has been incredibly helpful for my career and getting my works out there. One of the hardest things about being a composer and getting your career off the ground is getting groups to perform your music, because there’s so many composers.

“Choirs and orchestras are still in that precarious position where doing new music is not fiscally safe. When people hear the words ‘world premiere,’ they sometimes think it’s going to be something really avant-garde and inaccessible, so getting performances of new music — especially the larger works that have orchestral accompaniment — is very, very difficult.”

Sędek studied with composer Tarik O’Regan and cites him as the biggest influence on his development as an artist. He was also inspired by the Romantic and Impressionist icons.

“Debussy’s been the biggest influence on my style in terms of trying to stay grounded in accessibility and melodicism, even when I try to do things that are more sophisticated,” he says. “I’d say that’s a huge focal point for me: a Romantic and Neo-romantic grounding in melody.”

He has great affinity for choral music because he finds the spoken word the ultimate creative source.

“One of the things that always drew me to choral music, even from a young age, was the fact that you always have poetry or prose or some kind of text imbued with it,” he says. “Choral composition gives you those added layers of thought and depth to the process because there’s this entire secondary artform that’s glued to it and, by design, you can’t have choral music without the text.”

One of the biggest lessons he has learned from his years with CAS has do with the importance of a community choir to its surrounding neighborhoods. He recently took a trip to Poland and says “Poland is a country where choral music doesn’t really exist outside of church. If you had a choir concert of totally secular music, few would go to it and even fewer would pay for it. But here in the U.S., these community choirs, of which there are so many, are just a huge part of the artistic cultural fabric. I don’t think a lot of Americans realize how unique it is compared to other parts of the world.

“These organizations like CAS are sort of like super clubs, and it’s out of this club culture that you have these kinds of people who are talented and passionate about something. The ‘society’ part of the name is something I’ve never ended up taking for granted because it really does feel like a second family.”

Every step of the way, the choir has supported him like family.

“The last 12 years of my life have been filled with a lot of really special things — I met my wife, I had my children, I lost one of my parents, I got all of these great new jobs — and at every one of those big life milestones, I had an entire second family there with cakes and congratulations and cards.

“It’s a really special thing we get to have with these sorts of groups, which is why it feels so much more emotional for me than just saying, ‘Well, I’m just changing jobs.’ Because they’ve all really become family to me, and saying goodbye is going to be very hard. It’s the right career move, there’s no question about that, but I’m going to miss them terribly.”

The departure of a music director can have a profound effect on a choir, and it is inevitable that both will feel a sense of loss. There is little doubt that Sędek’s final performance will be emotional and moving.

CAS has been preparing for the arrival of the new director. The search is winding down. Finalists were invited to lead the chorus in rehearsals of the Haydn Brothers concert. Then the choir will vote, and the board of directors will make the final decision.

“We have incredibly talented people and young people as well, which I think is important,” Sędek says. “Whichever one they pick, they’ll be in good hands.”

The Choral Art Society of New Jersey will perform at The Presbyterian Church in Westfield, May 4 at 8 p.m. For information, visit

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