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DECATUR – There were plenty of leis and Hawaiian attire to go along with the “Sounds of the Islands” theme, as well as tropical heat to spare on the patio.

But most of the 150 guests who bought tickets to support the Symphony Orchestra Guild of Decatur opted to stay in air-conditioned comfort as they dined on a sumptuous buffet and listened to the array of tunes from a steel drum performer at the Beach House.

The get-together provided an opportunity for music lovers to meet Sergey Bogza, a friendly, energetic 30-year-old conductor who was recently selected to take the reins of the Millkin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra.

Randall Reyman was head of the search committee that was asked to find a replacement for Michael Luxner, who served as the orchestra's conductor and Millikin University music professor for the past 20 years.

“We had a lot of really good candidates from all over the world,” said Reyman, principal tumpet and Millikin professor for 34 years. “Sergey rose to the top really quickly for me. I was really impressed with him. I was really happy he took the job.”

Bogza had the right combination of conducting and teaching experience, as well as an “effervescent, outgoing” personality, Reyman said.

“He has some innovative ideas to build an audience,” Reyman said.” He has a lot of things to offer his students.”

Bogza, a native of Russia, immigrated to America with his family when he was 9 years old, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. They settled in Portland, Ore., where he first took piano lessons at age 12.

Although he began later in life than most professional musicians, he decided right then this was going to be his path.

“After the first lesson, I knew this is worth dedicating your life to,” Bogza said.

At Cleveland High School, a Portland public school, he first wielded a conductor's baton for an ensemble. He went on to earn a bachelor's in music education at Portland State University, then a master's at Central Washington University and doctorate at University of Minnesota, both in orchestral conducting.

His recent professional experience had him racking up endless Minnesota highway miles as the conductor of orchestras in three towns: Virginia, Brainerd and Willmar.

Bogza is all smiles as he extols the virtues of his Decatur appointments.

“I was impressed with the symphony,” he said. “It is a true partnership between the university and the community. In the orchestra you have faculty, students and also local professionals. One cannot exist without the other. What's attractive to me, given all those components, there's a desire and will to perform at a high level. People really value good concerts and good music.”

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Staff Writer

Staff Writer for the Herald & Review.

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