About the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra

The Willmar Area Orchestra began in March of 1957. In the beginning the orchestra met in the home of its co-founders Dr. Lawrence Opsahl and his wife Margaret. A few friends got together to try some simple string ensemble pieces. In a few months there were both strings and winds getting together on Sunday evenings for musical sessions in the Opsahl living room.

Over the years the orchestra has had three different names and four conductors. From 1957-1964, it was known as the Willmar Philharmonic Orchestra. Dr. Opsahl is quoted as saying,"We decided to put our tongues in our cheeks and settle for the name Willmar Philharmonic Orchestra, which had a pleasant ring to our ears, even though it might give our audiences some reason to wonder."
In 1964, the new Willmar Community College brought in Chet Sommers to organize its music department. A collaboration between the Willmar Philharmonic Orchestra and the college began and the orchestra was renamed Willmar Community Orchestra. Chet Sommers directed the orchestra until May 1997, a period of more than 30 years.
Robert Whitney stepped in to fill the void left by the retirement of Chet Sommers. He recruited members from surrounding communities and it was decided that the name of the orchestra should become the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra.
After Robert Whitney, Steven Eckblad was brought in and conducted the orchestra for ten years, stepping down in May of 2013. The 2013-14 season was a year of transition with a yearlong audition process.
In the fall of 2014 we will welcome our fifth conductor to the podium, Sergey Bogza.

Much like the group of friends that met in the Opsahl's living room 57 years ago, today's orchestra members volunteer their time just because they enjoy getting together to make music.

Music Director and Conductor Dr. Sergey BogzaDr. Sergey Bogza
Russian-American conductor Sergey Bogza is a dynamic and sensitive sought-after conductor, equally at home in symphonic and operatic repertoire. Currently, Mr. Bogza holds the position of Artistic Director of Mesabi Symphony Orchestra and Music Director and Conductor of Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra.

Previously, Mr. Bogza was a James Sample Conducting Fellow at the University of Minnesota, Artistic Director and founder of the First Slavic Youth Orchestra, assistant conductor and graduate instructor at Central Washington University, and guest masterclass teacher for Music in World Cultures. Mr. Bogza has been invited to conduct The Berlin Sinfonietta at the International Masterclasses Berlin, II International Conductors Masterclass “El Escorial”, Academy of Advanced Conducting, The International Conductors’ Festival (Ukraine), Cincinnati Conservatory of Music Masterclass, has been chosen to conduct public performances of the B minor Mass and Christmas Oratorio at the Oregon Bach Festival and has appeared extensively as a guest conductor, presenter, and clinician in the Northwest.

In addition to Mr. Bogza’s work on the podium, he is also an internationally performed composer. With over 40 compositions and arrangements for orchestra and chamber ensembles, his works most recently have been featured at the 21st International New Music Festival “Европа-Азия” in Kazan, Russia. His new composition Remember for soprano and baritone solo, chamber choir and chamber orchestra, has received its world premiere in May 2013 and has been scheduled for performances in both Germany and Russia. On April 2014, Mr. Bogza’s chamber orchestra arrangement of Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Quixote for 17 players received three performances and he is working on similar arrangements of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche.

Trained as a pianist and equally comfortable in the opera pit, Mr. Bogza has been involved in conducting workshops of two new American operas, Sister Carrie and Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern by Grammy Award-winning composers Robert Aldridge and Hershel Garfein. In April of 2013, Mr. Bogza conducted the University of Minnesota Opera Theater and Orchestra in four performances of Benjamin’s Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (act II) and in November 2014 conducted four performances Bedřich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. Mr. Bogza has served as an assistant to Mark Russell Smith at University of Minnesota Opera Theater mainstage productions of Mozart’s Così fan Tutte, Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff, and Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen.

As a passionate and experienced music educator, Mr. Bogza strives to find innovative ways to educate and bring classical music to young people and local schools, establish lasting relationships, and develop partnerships within the community. In 2012, in collaboration with the Hyperion Singers and Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, Mr. Bogza conducted benefit concerts for local organizations and schools featuring the music of J.S Bach and Handel. In 2010, during his second year at Central Washington University, in collaboration with faculty and staff, Mr. Bogza co-conducted/organized sold-out outreach and fundraising concerts that were broadcast live on CWU public TV and Cable Channel 15. Mr. Bogza has been the president of Oregon’s Collegiate Chapter of National Association for Music Education and currently serves on the board of directors for the New Song School of Music.

Mr. Bogza is a native of Taganrog Russia and has been living in the United States since 1995. He holds a Bachelor Degree in Music Education from Portland State University, Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting from Central Washington University, and a Doctoral of Musical Arts in Orchestral Conducting from University of Minnesota.