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On October 10th, 1950, 19-year-old Jac Holzman got the ground-breaking label Elektra Records started from his dorm room at St. John's University in Annapolis, Maryland. He and partner Paul Rickhalt invested $300 to get it rolling. On October 14th, 2010, the 92nd Y honored Holzman for having co-founded the influential company over 60 years ago. In a face-to-face discussion between Holzman and longtime music writer Lenny Kaye (also Patti Smith Group guitarist/collaborator and record producer) as a moderator/interviewer, the thoughtful and articulate exec told his basic story through Kaye's engaging questions to the packed house. Mysteriously, Rickhalt's name never came up. Holzman explained that until '73, he presided over the label and saw it through its expansion from an initial folk, ethnic music and blues-based thrust into far more eclectic directions. Some of Holzman's important early signings included blues singer Josh White, (who had been blacklisted as a communist sympathizer) singer/songwriters Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, Tim Buckley and Paul Butterfield Blues Band. In ’64, Holzman launched subsidiary label Nonesuch, a budget-conscious company created to release unusual classical, world and ethnic musics that might be unavailable otherwise.In 1966, Holzman's highly pivotal signing of the band Love brought the company into the rock scene and market place, which became part of its canon ever since. Rock, of course, was the biggest-selling and most pervasive genre during the '60s and that never waned.
During that decade, baby boomers gained immeasurable sway in virtually everything due to their huge numbers and buying power, and for a record company not to get into rock was tantamount to turning down millions of dollars and irrelevance.
By the late '60s, only specialized labels such as folk-oriented Vanguard Records stuck to their narrow focus. In its first 15 years, Elektra competed with Vanguard in the folk market. Had Elektra remained as limited as Vanguard -- which took a very purist posture -- it would have gone out of business or been relegated to a relatively obscure bailiwick of the music business. Quite simply, rock was where it was at for the young who spent the most money on music. But enough digression...Holzman credited Love's leader Arthur Lee for recommending that he check out a new group that would ultimately bring Elektra into the rock arena in a big way. That band was The Doors.
But, as Holzman explained, the first three times he saw them, he wasn't that impressed. It wasn't until the fourth visit that he fully "got" them and wanted them sign to Elektra. That coup yielded more record sales and international fame than any other act Holzman signed before or since.Holzman also outlined that he was very much hands-on in every facet of the label for its first 13 years. He noted that the most challenging and critical decision he constantly had to make was what producer to assign to an artist or act. He felt a great deal of responsibility concerning this because he held the conviction that his duty was to nurture the overall careers of everyone on his roster, and the producer had a great influence on how the music was presented and received by audiences. Ultimately, the artists had to be happy with the results as well.This music industry legend also outlined that after a dozen or so years of being directly involved with everything from the recording to the songs' sequence to the album art and liner notes, he began to delegate an increasing amount of work to others.
By '73, Holzman was worn out; he decided to sell his company to Kinney National Services which would soon be renamed Warner-Elektra-Atlantic -- WEA for short. At the behest of its late chairman Steve Ross, Holzman stayed on as head of their technology group. The young David Geffen took over the merged Elektra/Aylsum label; Geffen had only recently founded the latter at that time. Some of Geffen's signings to Asylum would be huge successes, especially the Eagles and several singer/songwriters such as Jackson Browne, which represented a defining ethos of the '70s.
Browne was another guest to join in the conversation that started with Holzman and Kaye. Singer Natalie Merchant, who as part of 10,000 Maniacs, represented a mid '80s Asylum signing (made by then president Bob Krasnow), also took to the stage.
He and Merchant performed his tune "These Days" with Browne on acoustic guitar as Merchant sang his reflective and poignant lyrics. This was the highlight of the event. Merchant took this lovely song to another level with her exquisite vocal interpretations.Elektra would continue to thrive until 2004, when it got closed down while being revamped. It re-emerged last year, and, hopefully, will have a long future ahead. While no one can know for sure what will happen with this revived version, Elektra's glorious past has indelibly shaped the modern era of popular music, so it was a happy diamond anniversary.
As a pioneer and true record man, Holzman received a collective thank you from all the attendees for the care, work and most of all, the music he's been responsible for.
For other 92nd St Y events go to: http://www.92y.org/
A Conversation with Jac HolzmanOctober 14th, 201092nd Street Y 1395 Lexington AvenueNew York, NY 10128212-415-5500
New York Philharmonicconducted by Alan Gilbert Don Juancoomposed by Richard StraussE-minor Violin Concertocomposed by Felix MendelssohnMétabolescomposed by Henri DutilleuxSymphonic Metamorphosis of Themes of Carl Maria von Webercomposed by Paul Hindemith
The New York Philharmonic's first subscription concert of the new season began thrillingly, under Alan Gilbert's direction, with a superb rendition of Richard Strauss's Wagnerian tone poem, Don Juan. This performance was notable for its bravura control of dynamics replete with riveting fortissimos.Beloved violinist, Itzhak Perlman, took the stage to play Felix Mendelssohn's E-minor Violin Concerto which he did with warmth and abundant confidence -- it is impressive that such an often-played work could sound so fresh. Perlman received an enthusiastic, standing ovation.After intermission, the orchestra returned to perform the challenging high-modernist Métaboles by Henri Dutilleux which it played with a crystalline transparency.The concert closed triumphantly with Paul Hindemith's exciting Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes of Carl Maria von Weber, surely one of the composer's best scores. Here both the composer and the conductor successfully exploited the full resources of a modern symphony orchestra, again with powerful dynamics.This program repeats on September 24th, 25th, and 28th.
New York Philharmonic Avery Fisher HallLincoln CenterSeptember 23rd, 2010
After an extended period of financial uncertainty, New York City Ballet returns to a season which opens in this fall 2010. On offer in the coming months are much of the venerable company's established repertory as well as re-plays of premieres from last season as well as a few brand-new works. A new effort is being made this year to further familiarize audiences on the principal dancers.On Thursday, September 16th, the company presented a program of three ballets by the late great choreographer Jerome Robbins. The program began with Interplay, a ballet that debuted in 1945, which was Robbins' follow-up to his extraordinary Fancy Free (seen a few months ago here as well as at American Ballet Theatre). Interplay is delightful but this performance lacked some of the bounce of the presentation I saw last season. The lovely Tiler Peck was a standout however, even in the sections where she played a supporting role -- indeed, she is the perfect Robbins dancer. Morton Gould's witty score sounded especially crisp under conductor Andrews Sill's direction. Interplay repeats in the spring.Opus 19/The Dreamer finds Robbins working in a mode closer to that of George Balanchine, choreographing to the excellent Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1, with the Russian composer having employed a more accessible, less forbidding register. This ballet features two principals, Wendy Whelan and Gonzalo Garcia. All the dancers were good but this viewer missed some intensity, especially that of Whelan at her best but Robbins' beautiful conception, rendered here, remains splendid. Opus 19/The Dreamer repeats on October 2nd, as well as in the spring.Thursday's program closed with The Four Seasons, set to Giuseppe Verdi -- primarily to his enjoyable music for the ballet for the third act of I vespri siciliani, an opera known mainly for its often-played overture. Robbins' The Four Seasons is in many ways something of a synthesis of the styles of the two other ballets that were on this program -- it has much of the puckish humor that was a trademark of the choreographer combined with the formal elegance and underplayed romanticism that Robbins may have appropriated from Balanchine. This ballet is a glorious showcase for 10 of the corp's principals, all very fine in this performance -- despite some rough edges -- supported by an energetic company which exuded enthusiasm. The Four Seasons repeats in the winter.At the Saturday, September 18th matinee, City Ballet presented Balanchine's Serenade, set to Tchaikovsky's enchanting Serenade for Strings. This work -- Balanchine's first original American ballet -- is the choreographer at his most transporting, although at this performance there were some errors of timing in the company; however, the female principals -- Megan Fairchild, Sara Mearns and Janie Taylor -- were all excellent, with Mearns a particular standout, especially in the opening movement. Serenade repeats this month on Sept. 30th and on October 2nd.Serenade was followed by a repeat of Interplay, with a different cast and with similar weaknesses to that of Thursday night's performance. There was more roughness in this iteration; most dismaying, however, was the absence of Peck -- but the sheer American-ness of Robbins' creation was still evident.The program closed with Balanchine's Who Cares? set to Hershy Kay's enjoyable arrangement of several classic Gershwin songs. While likable enough, this ballet has never had the excitement for me of, say, Western Symphony, to take another Balanchine work scored to music from American popular songs. At this performance, I would have liked a little more discipline in the ensemble, especially in the early sections but Peck triumphantly brought eroticism and poise to her "The Man I Love" duet and she also shone in her solo to "Fascinatin' Rhythm." Noteworthy too was Ana Sophia Scheller in her duet to "Embraceable You" and in her athletic solo to "My One and Only."At the matinee performance on Sunday, September 19th, I saw Alexei Ratmansky's thrilling Namouna, A Grand Divertissement, set to a truly fabulous score by Edouard Lalo -- which deserves repertory status in the concert hall. Namouna premiered at City Ballet this spring but is proving to be popular and I would predict that it will endure.
This ballet seems to disavow meanings for forms but the forms are beguiling and it appears to be paradigmatic of nothing so much as postmodern art in its combination of classical elements with very contemporary stylings, giving the ballet an effect of pastiche. But such theorizing distances a viewer from the direct experience of the work itself which is a feast of visual excitement. I would have preferred more discipline in the timing and synchronization of the corps at this performance. While the impressive cast of featured dancers seemed less remarkable than one might ideally like, these infelicities matter less in a ballet of such grandeur.The repeat of Who Cares? which closed the program was similarly captivating. Again, there were many imprecisions in the ensemble segments -- but the energy of the dancers brought the requisite ebullience to Kay's clever orchestration of Gershwin melodies. Again, the featured principals -- with the definite exception of Peck, who fetchingly recapitulated her Saturday performance -- fell short of the pure charm the ballet demands -- but the inspiration within Balanchine's conception was effectively transmitted.On Tuesday, September 21st, I attended an enthralling re-play of Namouna. At this performance, the tempos were accelerated to excellent effect, bringing in their wake more dynamism. The abundant comic dimensions of this ballet also received more emphasis and this aspect too was successfully conveyed, especially as it corresponds so fittingly with the Gallic wit of Lalo's extravagant score, despite its many stirring, Wagnerian inflections. And, for all the pure pleasure aroused, the experience was oddly moving -- I look forward already to seeing Namouna again at City Ballet.Also repeated on this program was Robbins' The Four Seasons, which too boasts a strong cast of featured dancers -- I enjoyed this ballet very much as well. The first section, "Winter" was splendid but the energy seemed to flag a little in the "Spring" and "Summer" movements. However, that energy returned in "Fall" with the arrival of Antonio Carmena and Joaquin de Luz -- but even here, Peck was again outstanding in her technical assurance and spark and she was received by the delighted audience with the enthusiastic response she deserved.On Wednesday, September 23rd, I saw a repeat of Robbins' Interplay. This performance was a little more disciplined than the one I attended the week before but it still lacked the jazzy electricity that I witnessed in its appearance last season. Most notable this evening was Sterling Hyltin in the third section, "Byplay", who danced elegantly.The repeat of Opus 19/The Dreamer seemed both less disciplined and less energetic than last week's performance but there were lovely moments. The estimable Whelan was most impressive in her duet in the second movement.The replay of Who Cares? was the most successful of the evening -- what the dancers lacked in precision they compensated for in dynamism. Several of the ballerinas were standouts here, notably Amanda Hankes in "'S Wonderful" and Teresa Reichlen in "Embraceable You" and "My One and Only". Balanchine's choreography here is a true pleasure.
For more info or to book tix go to: http://www.nycballet.com/nycb/home/
New York City BalletFall Season (September 14 - October 10, 2010)The David H. Koch TheaterLincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex (at Columbus Avenue & 63rd Street)New York, NY
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