Martin C. Dreiwitz, who took student musicians on world tour, dies at 91


Martin C. Dreiwitz, who drew inspiration from his dual passion for travel and classical music to found the Long Island Youth Orchestra, which conducted its student musicians to audiences as close as Great Neck and Brookville and as far away as Karachi and Kathmandu, died June 20 at a hospital near his home in Oyster Bay, NY. He was 91.

Steven Behr, chairman of the orchestra’s board of directors, said the cause was a heart attack.

The orchestra may have had a hundred performers, but Mr. Dreiwitz (pronounced DRY-witz) was practically a one-man show: he raised funds, he sought out new members, he cajoled parents for them to bring snacks on rehearsal days, and he conducted all performances from its founding in 1962 until his retirement in 2012.

He was also the orchestra’s travel agent. In addition to giving four concerts a year, mostly at a performance hall on the Long Island University Post campus in Brookville, NY, the orchestra toured summer, almost always overseas, with multiple stops and often on several continents. A trip in 1977 took them to Greece, Kenya, the Seychelles, India, Sri Lanka and Israel, with every detail arranged by Mr. Dreiwitz.

Although he was trained as a classical clarinetist, Mr. Dreiwitz was actually a travel agent by trade, and he used his skills and connections to plan complex trips that even a professional orchestra could back away from. He was proud to be among the first Western orchestras to play in places like Pakistan and Nepal, performing sold-out shows with students who had often never left Long Island.

He treated his musicians as adults and considered his mission less educational than preparation for a professional musical career. It eschewed typical youth orchestra fare—Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”—in favor of deep cuts of Mozart and Rossini and composers from avant-garde like Virgil Thomson (a personal friend, who sometimes used the orchestra to test his latest work).

He also tended to avoid Broadway scores, although he had a soft spot for the music of George Gershwin, particularly “Porgy and Bess”, and often included selections from this opera on the orchestra’s summer tour. .

Mr. Dreiwitz saw travel as another form of preparation. It was, he insisted, important for budding violists and clarinettists to learn to perform at their best in strange new places, in strange new cities, in front of strange new audiences.

But he also simply loved the challenge of planning, say, a five-week trip for 85 students to five countries in East Asia. Between fundraising and rehearsals, during the school year, he would embark on scouting trips, scouting each site for an upcoming tour – arranging hotels (or just as often private homes), visiting venues, even tasting restaurants. When the students arrived, months later, everything would be perfect.

The orchestra operated on a shoestring budget, especially in the beginning, when Mr. Dreiwitz refused to charge tuition. Instead, the funds came from family donations, annual candy sales and, quite often, from his own pocket. Each spring, it offered a $2,500 scholarship to be divided among the top three high school students, judged by an outside jury.

Mr. Dreiwitz’s hard work paid off. The orchestra’s 4,000 alumni (and counting) have gone on to play in many of the country’s great companies, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and Philadelphia Orchestra, and they populate countless chamber groups and university music departments.

Mr. Dreiwitz could be stern and demanding on the podium, but, according to several of his former musicians, he ran the orchestra like a family, fostering an atmosphere of collegiality rather than competitiveness.

“I don’t twist anyone’s arm to join me,” he told the New York Times in 1964. “They give up their own time because they love music and want the opportunity to play. I don’t don’t think you can find a more enthusiastic group of musicians anywhere.

Martin Charles Dreiwitz was born in Weehawken, NJ on June 15, 1931 and grew up in Brooklyn. Her father, Samuel Dreiwitz, worked in the fur industry and her mother, Charlotte (Silver) Dreiwitz, was a homemaker.

He is survived by his two sons, Tuan Dinh and Dung Dinh.

A gifted musician from childhood, he played the clarinet and graduated from the Manhattan High School of Music and Art (now Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & the Arts), and majored in music at the University of Chicago. Along the way, he studied under woodwind luminaries like Simeon Bellison, the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and Anthony Gugliotti, who held the same position with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

After graduating from university in 1953, he moved to Europe, where he traveled and studied to become a conductor, including a stint with Wilhelm Furtwängler in Vienna.

He returned to the United States in the early 1960s and settled in suburban Long Island, hoping to find a job as a bandleader. To make ends meet, he took a job as a travel agent and offered private clarinet lessons on the side.

One day in 1962, one of his particularly gifted students puts down his instrument and frowns.

“I’ve come this far,” Mr. Dreiwitz recalls as the student says, “and now I have to wait for years, until I get into a big orchestra; before having a very good experience. Where do I go from here? »

The seed was planted and took root: Mr. Dreiwitz held auditions for what he originally called the North Shore Symphony Orchestra in September 1962. It started with just 52 musicians, and they performed a concert the following spring. A few years later, he took them on their first trip, to Chicopee, Mass.

The early years were full of stops and starts, with Mr. Dreiwitz contacting Nassau County music teachers to find promising musicians. But by the end of the 1960s, he no longer needed it. Eager students lined up outside his travel agency to audition, and every year he had a waiting list. The orchestra made its first trip overseas, to Europe, in 1971.

He achieved emeritus status in 2012, passing the baton to Scott Dunn, an alumnus. He continued to come to rehearsals at the LIU Post, though less and less often, then not at all.

But Mr. Dreiwitz still had a hooray. In 2018, hundreds of alumni returned for a concert in his honor, and he even took to the podium, to conduct a selection of his beloved “Porgy and Bess.”


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