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Long IslandLI Life

Born of friendship, LI Composers Alliance still playing after 46 years

Since 1972, the Long Island Composers Alliance has presented over 300 concerts featuring more than 1,500 new compositions by 100 Long Island-ased composers. On Dec. 11, 2018, they will perform at their annual holiday concert in Freeport. (Credit: Jeff Bachner)

Herbert Deutsch and Marga Richter struck a chord from the moment they met 48 years ago.

Their connection began when Richter, who had studied composition at The Juilliard School of Music and had written works for the Harkness Ballet, attended a concert featuring Deutsch's music. Excited by what she heard, she struck up a conversation with him afterward.

It wasn't until a year later, however, that their friendship blossomed. Richter, then teaching music appreciation at Nassau Community College, had developed an interest in electronic music and contacted Deutsch, a co-inventor of the Moog synthesizer. Though she soon discovered electronic music wasn't her "thing," Richter and Deutsch realized they had much in common — from their mutual love of music to their connections with other Long Island composers.

"I said, 'Why don't we get a few other composers together and have a concert?' " said Richter, 92, of Huntington.

Deutsch liked the idea, and in 1972 the Long Island Composers Alliance was not only born but performing its first concert in South Huntington. At the time of that initial concert, the group numbered six. Now just a few years shy of its 50th anniversary, LICA has close to 40 members and performs six to eight times a year, including its annual holiday concert on Dec. 11 at South Nassau Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Freeport.

Billed as "An Evening of Chamber Music for Harp, Piano and Two Clarinets," the concert will feature guest performers from Perugia, Italy, and among the original pieces will be one written in the 1970s by Deutsch, 86, of Massapequa Park.

"The piece I have is a relatively short solo for clarinet," he said. "I wrote it for my daughter to play at a Long Island Composers Alliance program of student performers."

Modest beginnings

Clearly LICA has come a long way from its humble beginnings. "It started out as classical but with a small 'c,' " said Deutsch, a trained pianist who also taught music for 57 years at Hofstra University. "We were not trying to write like Mozart."

At first, LICA's concerts consisted of small ensembles playing mostly original chamber music. Within a short time, singers joined the lineup, and within a few years choral music was added to the repertoire. By 1975, LICA incorporated and set up a board consisting of a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. As a nonprofit organization, most of the group's support comes from grants and donations.

Admission for concerts is generally free, and while performances have taken place at venues ranging from churches to Hofstra University, most are held at libraries, said Deutsch, whose 22-year term as LICA president ended this spring. During the past 46 years, LICA has presented well over 300 concerts and featured more than 1,500 new compositions by 100 Long Island-based composers.

"Mostly all members have degrees in composition, whether it’s from Juilliard or Manhattan School of Music," said current president Laurence Dresner, 62, of Freeport, who adds that not all of LICA music is classical.

"A bunch of us write other stuff. I used to write musical theater, so I'll throw in a couple of theater songs, others play jazz," he said. "The one thing we try to keep away from is pure pop, and we certainly don’t do rap or anything like that."

Annual membership is $75 and new composers are always welcome, added Dresner. Candidates are usually invited by current members to join or they apply by submitting their own music, which will then be reviewed by a committee.

Supporting young musicians

One of the group's most successful ventures has been its Music by and for Students program, which consists of an annual concert done in two parts. In one, young composers have their original pieces performed by fellow students; in the second, students perform works written by LICA members. The student composers' works are also judged by the LICA Program Committee with the winners in each of three categories — age 11 and younger, ages 12 to 14 and ages 15 to 19 — receiving $50. 

The concerts have also been instrumental in attracting younger composers to the alliance, not to mention injecting more modern sensibilities to their music.

"They’ll try to incorporate more common rhythms and references to things that you might hear on the radio," Dresner said.

For Richter, who has written more than 150 compositions, the real benefits of LICA have been the chance to share her music with audiences and connecting with Long Island's music community.

"It's nice to be with your colleagues. You get to know the other performers," she said. "As far as your own pieces, when you write new pieces you want to get them heard. I've told people, you can call me at 2 in the morning if you'll play what I write."

WHAT "An Evening of Chamber Music for Harp, Piano and Two Clarinets" presented by the Long Island Composers Alliance and the Huntington Arts Council

WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11, South Nassau Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 228 S. Ocean Ave., Freeport

INFO Free; licamusic.org

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