CWU Music alumnus named new conductor of Youngstown Symphony

  • June 10, 2024
  • University Relations

Central Washington University Music alumnus Sergey Bogza has been named the new conductor and music director of the Youngstown (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra, signing a three-year contract.

The 38-year-old Bogza earned his master’s degree in orchestral conducting from CWU in 2011 and went on to receive a doctorate in orchestral conducting from the University of Minnesota. He previously served as music director with the Millikin-Decatur (Illinois) Symphony Orchestra and the Willmar Symphony and Heartland Symphony Orchestra, both in Minnesota.

Bogza, who was born in Russia to a Russian-Ukrainian family that emigrated to the United States in 1995, previously applied for the position in 2022. He accepted a position with the Panama City (Florida) Symphony later that year and will continue as music director there.

 Sergey Bogza portrait

However, he does not want to be a conductor who just flies in for concerts and then leaves town.

“I’m looking forward to being in Youngstown,” Bogza said in a recent article in the Tribune Chronicle newspaper of Warren, Ohio.

“I’ll be there for about a week and a half at the end of July … For every concert I’ll be in Youngstown anywhere between two to three weeks. I told the search committee, if you want someone who will simply parachute in, conduct a few rehearsals and a concert and then fly out, I’m not that person. I’m going to go into the schools, I’m going to meet people. I want to be an integral part of Youngstown public life.”

YSO has spent the last two seasons bringing in guest conductors in search of a successor to Randall Craig Fleischer, who died in 2020. Bogza submitted an application when the opening was announced, but he was one of the last applicants brought in to work with the orchestra.

“There were a couple we had not brought to town as part of one of the seasons that the search committee felt we needed to see. Sergey was one of them,” said Matt Pagac, chief executive and operating officer of the Youngstown Symphony Society, and he came in for a weekday rehearsal and performance in March. “We were really impressed and also impressed with what the audience had to say from that short concert. We had a great response from the musicians … When the time came to put the cards on the table and call a vote, Sergey came out on top.”

The educational programs Bogza has put in place in the other communities where he’s worked and his ability to build attendance were among the attributes that appealed to the symphony society.

Bogza describes himself as a risk-taker in his programming. While orchestral music is a creative art, it’s one that is wedded to tradition, and orchestras often hew too closely to tradition at the expense of creativity.

As an example, in Panama City he was asked to program a Halloween concert and created Nightmare on the Bay: Jack Sparrow vs. Darth Vader, which featured conductors representing the Pirates of the Caribbean character and the Star Wars villain leading the orchestra.

“It’s wonderful masterworks literature, but they were presented and offset by pop culture references, hijinks, skits, comedy,” Bogza said. “That just made people think the symphony is a fun concert to be (at). People started to associate that with the Panama City Symphony. Regardless of any concert, we promise they’ll have a great time out listening to wonderful music and have their inhibitions about symphony orchestras be erased.”

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