Using his dual passion for travel and classical music to form the world-renowned Long Island Youth Orchestra, Martin C. Drproteinz conducted his student musicians for audiences as close as Great Neck and Brookville and as far away as Karachi and Kathmandu , died on June 20 at a hospital near his home in Oyster Bay, N.Y. He was 91.
Steven Behr, the orchestra’s chairman of the board, said the cause was a heart attack.
The orchestra may have numbered about 100 performers, but Mr. Drproteinz (pronounced DRY-witz) was practically a one-man show: he raised the money, he scouted for new members, he flattered parents to bring snacks on rehearsal days, and he conducted every gig from its inception in 1962 until his retirement in 2012.
He was also the orchestra’s travel agent. In addition to playing four concerts a year, mostly in a concert hall on the Long Island University Post campus in Brookville, NY, the orchestra went on summer tours, almost always abroad, with multiple stops and often on multiple continents. A trip, in 1977, took them to Greece, Kenya, the Seychelles, India, Sri Lanka and Israel, arranged down to the last detail by Mr. Drproteinz.
Although trained as a classical clarinetist, Mr. Drproteinz was in fact a travel agent by trade, using his skills and connections to plan intricate tours that even a professional orchestra would shy away from. He was proud to be one of the first Western orchestras to play in places like Pakistan and Nepal, giving sold-out shows with students who often had never left Long Island.
Treating his musicians as adults, he saw his mission as less of a pedagogy than a preparation for a professional music career. He eschewed the typical youth orchestra fare – Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” – in favor of deep pieces by Mozart and Rossini and avant-garde composers such as Virgil Thomson (a personal friend, who sometimes used the orchestra to test his latest work).
He also tended to stay away from Broadway scores, although he had a soft spot for George Gershwin’s music, especially “Porgy and Bess,” and often recorded selections from that opera during the orchestra’s summer tour.
Mr Drproteinz saw traveling as another form of preparation. It was, he stressed, important for budding violinists and clarinetists to learn how to perform at their best in strange new stages, in strange new cities, in front of strange new audiences.
But he also just loved the challenge of, for example, planning a five-week trip for 85 students through five countries in East Asia. Between raising money and running rehearsals, he made scouting trips during the school year, scouring every venue for an upcoming tour — arranging hotels (or just as often private homes), picking out locations, and even sampling restaurants. When the students arrived, months later, everything would be perfect.
The orchestra was on a tight budget, especially in the beginning when Mr. Drproteinz refused to charge tuition. Instead, the money came from family donations, annual candy sales and, very often, his own pocket. Each spring, he offered a $2,500 scholarship to distribute to the top three high school students judged by an outside panel.
Mr. Drproteinz’s hard work has paid off. The orchestra’s 4,000 (and more) alumni have gone on to play in many of the nation’s major companies, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, populating numerous chamber music groups and academic music departments.
Mr. Drproteinz could be strict and demanding on stage, but, many of his former musicians said, he led the orchestra like a family, fostering an atmosphere of collegiality rather than competitiveness.
“I’m not turning anyone’s arm to get involved,” he told DailyExpertNews in 1964. “They give up their own time because they love music and want a chance to play. I don’t think you can find a more enthusiastic group of musicians anywhere. find.”
Martin Charles Drproteinz was born in Weehawken, NJ, on June 15, 1931, and grew up in Brooklyn. His father, Samuel Drproteinz, worked in the fur industry and his mother, Charlotte (Silver) Drproteinz, was a housewife.
He is survived by his two sons, Tuan Dinh and Dung Dinh.
A gifted musician as a child, he played the clarinet, graduated from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan (now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & the Arts), and studied music at the University of Chicago . Along the way, he studied under woodwind players such as Simeon Bellison, the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, and Anthony Gugliotti, who held the same position with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
After graduating 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 a suburb of Long Island, hoping to find a job as a music director. To make ends meet, he took a job as a travel agent and also offered private clarinet lessons.
One day in 1962, one of his particularly talented students put down his instrument and frowned.
‘I’ve come this far,’ Mr Drproteinz recalls the student who said, ‘and now I have to wait years, until I end up in a great orchestra; before I get a really good experience. Where do I go from here?”
The seed was planted and rooted: Mr. Drproteinz auditioned in September 1962 for what he initially called the North Shore Symphony Orchestra. He started with just 52 musicians and they gave a concert the following spring. A few years later, he took them on their maiden voyage, to Chicopee, Mass.
In the early years, it was a matter of stopping and going as Mr. Drproteinz approached music teachers in Nassau County to find promising players. But by the end of the 1960s, that was no longer necessary. Enthusiastic students lined up at his travel agency to audition, and every year he had a waiting list. The orchestra made its first overseas trip in 1971, to Europe.
In 2012, he became emeritus and passed the baton to Scott Dunn, a former student. He kept coming to rehearse at LIU Post, though less and less often, and then not at all.
But Mr Drproteinz had one more hurray. In 2018, hundreds of alumni returned for a concert in his honor, and he even climbed the stage to conduct a selection of his beloved “Porgy and Bess.”