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Elektra Records Founder Jac Holzman Honored

Lenny KayeOn 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:

A Conversation with Jac Holzman
October 14th, 2010
92nd Street Y

1395 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10128

New York Philharmonic's 1st Concert of the New Sub Season

New York PhilharmonicConductor Alan Gilbert
conducted by Alan Gilbert
Don Juan
coomposed by Richard Strauss
E-minor Violin Concerto
composed by Felix Mendelssohn
composed by Henri Dutilleux
Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes of Carl Maria von Weber

composed 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 Hall
Lincoln Center
September 23rd, 2010


Film Review: Life As We Know It -- or Don't

Life As We Know ItJosh Duhamel
Directed by Greg Berlanti
Starring Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel  
Warner Brothers Pictures, the distributor of Life As We Know It, held a press conference in New York with the cast two weeks before the film opened in theaters. I asked the panelists if this was basically a Lifetime TV movie that was designed for theatrical release. Katherine Heigl took umbrage with my question as she snapped, “Are you calling this a TV movie!”

Yes, Katherine, I am. In addition to being this film’s star, Heigl is also its executive producer so it is easy to understand her defensiveness.
Director Greg Berlanti, to his credit did acknowledge the point that I was making but defended the film by saying that studio executives want to see certain plot devices, a cinematic equivalent for comfort food. Berlanti has a long and successful history as a director and producer of television sitcoms.

Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel) were set up on a blind date that quickly became a disaster by married couple Peter and Alison Novack (Hayes MacArthur and Christina Hendricks) with whom they are both extremely close. In the three years since that hellish date, they have had to tolerate each other at common social events such as when the Novack's daughter, Sophie, was born.
Holly has a successful bake shop in Buckhead, a ritzy Atlanta suburb, and would like to add on a restaurant. While her professional life is successful, her social life isn’t. (Yes, Heigl is cast in another prototypical yet improbable someone-who-can-never-have-it-all yuppie role.)

Eric “Mess” Messer is a television sports director who has no trouble attracting the ladies and loves his unattached life. While he is a fun-loving free spirit, the career-obsessed Holly is overly analytical.
Their lives change dramatically when tragedy ensues -- Peter and Alison are killed in a car crash on a rainy night in Georgia. Luckily, Sophie was home with her babysitter. Holly and Eric quickly learn from the Novack's attorney that they were named Sophie's godparents of and it was the late couple’s wish that the two raise Sophie in the case of such a tragedy.
Obviously, neither Holly nor Eric are prepared for parenthood but when they learn that Sophie will wind up being a ward of child services, they decide to give it a go and raise her by themselves while trying to lead separate lives. They move into their friends’ old home figuring that would be best for Sophie.
In realizing that he is not working with the cheeriest script, Berlanti tries his best to inject in some levity.

He has a great supporting cast who play Holly and Eric’s neighbors that includes comedic improv stars Will Sasso, Andrew Daly and Melissa McCarthy (the co-star of CBS’s new Monday evening comedy, Mike & Molly).

However it's the predictable array of baby poop, baby vomit, baby spitting food jokes that have been done to death that act as ballast to sink this film. I am not nostalgic for a revival of the Three Men And A Baby or the Look Who’s Talking franchises.
Even more egregiously, “Life As We Know It” follows every relationship cliche imaginable. The duo initially loathe one another but anyone over the age of three know how things wind up even when Holly gets involved with a seemingly perfect man, pediatrician Dr. Sam (Josh Lucas in a thankless nice-guy role), and Eric leaves for Phoenix to take a directing job with NBA team, the Suns.
Life As We Know It thankfully is unlike anyone’s life that I know.                        

New York City Ballet Returns This Fall 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.NYC Ballet Principals

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 namouna mearnsEdouard 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:

New York City Ballet
Fall Season (September 14 - October 10, 2010)
The David H. Koch Theater

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex
(at Columbus Avenue & 63rd Street)
New York, NY

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