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YSO names new conductor

Sergey Bogza is the new conductor and music director of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra.

The orchestra announced the hiring Thursday morning, and Bogza signed a three-year contract last month.

YSO has spent the last two seasons bringing in guest conductors in search of a successor to Randall Craig Fleischer, who died in 2020 at age 62. 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.”

Bogza, 38, was born in Russia to a Russian-Ukrainian family that emigrated to the United States in 1995.

He earned his master’s degree in orchestral conducting from Central Washington University and 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 said after applying for the position in 2022, he assumed it had been filled, and he accepted a position later that year with the Panama City (Florida) Symphony. He will continue as music director there, but he said he will not be a conductor who just flies in for concerts and leaves in Youngstown.

“I’m looking forward to being in Youngstown,” Bogza said. “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.”

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.

“When we called his references, including the chair of the board of the Panama City orchestra, they all talked about how much energy he has and how he really took them to places they never thought they would be able to go,” Pagac said. “His energy and how exciting he was, the audience development he accomplished was even surprising to them. He’s done a lot of educational programming that would be really great to bring to the community. That helps with audience development in the future, which was very attractive.”

Bogza described 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.”

The orchestra will announce its 2024-25 season later this month, Pagac said. They are waiting for confirmation on one guest artist.

Also planned is a gala in September to welcome Bogza as its new music director.

“It’s kind of like the return of the symphony ball, but we don’t want to call it that,” Pagac said. “We’re building it differently and hoping it becomes an annual thing we do to kick off the season each year.”

Waiting two years for the opportunity to audition for the YSO job might seem like a long time to most people, but Bogza is used to endurance tests.

When he’s not working, Bogza trains for ultra marathons and will be running a 200-mile endurance race in August. He initially considered it an escape from conducting, the way others might play golf as a respite from a stressful job, but it’s evolved for him

“Being a music director and guiding the future of an orchestra is like running a 200-mile race,” he said. “You go through valleys and peaks … You have to do your best job on a good day and on a bad day, put one foot in front of the other whether you’re tired, your knee hurts or you run out of water, whatever it takes to get to that finish line, which is bringing joy to the audience.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Andy Gray by email at agray@tribtoday.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.

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