Friday, August 28, 2009


Usually I associate “square holes” with round pegs and not with flutes, but when Leonard Lopatin explained to me how he came to invent the SquareONE Flute, it made sense to me.

Lopatin is no amateur, either as a flute maker or as a flautist. After receiving his degree at the Juilliard School of Music, he promptly became a member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, playing piccolo and third flute. He might still be happily making music in New York City thirty years later had it not been for his temperament and his versatility. In addition to being a musician since childhood, Lenny had been a tinkerer. At age twelve, he had taken apart and put back together his first flute. As he told the British Flute Society’s journal, “It was only much later that I realized that this was not something all kids would think to do; it seemed normal to me.”

When he asked his teachers and instrument technicians why flutes were built the way they were, he was not satisfied with all the answers. By the time he was in high school, he was keeping a notebook with ideas related to flute design. In 1978, while touring with the Metropolitan Opera, he had the idea of square tone holes. The concept is appealing from the point of view of physical acoustics. With round holes, the vibrating column of air varies in length across the width of the hole. With square holes, the vibrating column of air has the same length at every location across the width of the hole. Ergo, a flute with square holes should resonate with a purer tone, require less effort by the flautist, and produce less extraneous noise.

There are many flute makers in the world, most of whom create flutes as custom instruments made to order. Since no flautists were ordering flutes with square holes, there was little chance that flute makers would be interested in testing his ideas. Lopatin himself would have to learn how to make square holes and square caps. A flute maker must be a combination of skilled silversmith, precision machinist, acoustical engineer and musician. Becoming one is normally done through a five-year apprenticeship.

After the 1978 Met season, Lopatin used the off-season to begin learning his new occupation. He worked in the newly opened shop of experienced flute maker Bickford Brannen and his brother Robert Brannen in Woburn, Massachusetts. Lopatin returned to New York for one more season at the Met, and then resigned to apprentice full-time at Brannen Brothers, a firm that is now renowned in the industry. Lopatin later struck out on his own as a flute maker, while performing occasionally with the Boston Pops and other groups. In 2002, he moved his machinery from the Boston area to Asheville, where the Lopatin Flute Company now occupies a studio at 122 Riverside Drive in the River Arts District.

Theobald Boehm was the flautist and inventor who changed almost everything between 1831 and 1847. The key system was radically altered. The bore became tapered rather than cylindrical. The walls were reduced in thickness and the hole placement was changed. Albert Cooper and Johan Brögger made minor adjustments in the twentieth century, but the instruments remained close to those of 1850. Lopatin’s instruments may represent the most radical change in the design of flutes since Boehm.

Lopatin makes flutes both of the traditional design and in the SquareONE design using the usual silver or gold alloys. He constructs instruments primarily on commission. He recently began making piccolos using the traditional African blackwood (known as grenadilla). Still a musician as well as an instrument maker, he plays second flute with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra and has issued two CD’s featuring performances on his flutes. Squarely in the Holiday Spirit! is a collection of songs and carols performed on SquareONE flutes. Squarely Baroque is a compilation featuring Bach, Telemann and other baroque composers. More information is available at or at (828) 350-7762.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #448
August 28, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009


What do Jackson Pollack, Black Mountain College and a total solar eclipse have in common? They were all major influences on the artistic development of Arrington Williams, one of Asheville’s River District Artists. His card reads “Arrington Williams, Abstract Paintings of Energy and Light” and his paintings convey a sense of light that arises from his life history.

John Arrington Williams’ early years in Virginia were idyllic. His father was headmaster of Christ Church School on the Rappahannock River and then the Blue Ridge School in Green County, Virginia, seven miles down from Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains. At one school, he had access to boats. At the other, he had access to horses. Coming of age in the 1960’s, he checked out the University of South Carolina (one semester) and George Washington University (two semesters) before dropping out but staying in Washington taking studio courses at the Corcoran Gallery.

He studied with William Woodward (now a noted muralist whose works are included in the White House Permanent Collection) and Frank Wright (a figurative painter and printmaker who is now professor emeritus at George Washington University). From them, Williams learned drawing and representational painting. But it was Thomas Downing (1928-1985), who taught at the Corcoran for only three years (1965-68) who had the major influence on Williams’ future art. Downing was an exponent of color field painting, which had evolved out of Abstract Expressionism. Williams became enamored of the Washington Color School, Abstract Expressionism, and in particular Jackson Pollock. To this day, Arrington Williams’ paintings have paint splatters as a signature feature.

I have grown to expect the influence of Black Mountain College to show up everywhere in the cultural life of Western North Carolina. Tom Downing was a student and later a colleague of Kenneth Noland, co-founder of the Washington Color School of painters. Noland was a native of Asheville who had studied with Ilya Bolotowsky and Josef Albers at Black Mountain College beginning in 1946. So Arrington Williams has an artistic lineage that makes him a grandchild of Black Mountain College.

How does the full eclipse of the sun enter our narrative? On March 7, 1970 a total solar eclipse was observable in North America from Mexico to Newfoundland. Totality occurred along the coastline of the Carolinas and later Cape Cod. Along with some friends, Arrington Williams drove down the sand from Virginia Beach to Corolla, NC. In that era, there was no road to the northern limits of the Outer Banks. You had to drive through the dunes. His experience of seeing ribbons of light on the sand, of seeing the Corolla lighthouse automatically turn on, and of viewing with the naked eye the sun’s corona, were life-changing.

So works such as “Journey of Light,” the series of 5’x3’ paintings that he began in 1997 and that have been born slowly over time, had their genesis in Abstract Expressionism, Black Mountain College and a solar eclipse.

Arrington Williams is dedicated to gestural painting. He primarily uses acrylics, but his pigment choices and his use of clear glaze overcoatings make the finished paintings resemble oil paintings. He had lived in England (where he met his wife) and in the Washington area and elsewhere before settling in Asheville in 1998. He shared studio space in the River Arts District with prolific artist T.L. Lange until Lange’s death in 2001 at age 36. Williams returned to the River Arts District with his own studio (#230 Riverview Station) at 191 Lyman Street. His studio is open most Fridays or by appointment. He can be reached at (828) 319-9094. Further information may be found at his website

Rose Elegante, Light 38 & Fantasy Dream 1 © Arrington Williams
© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #447
August 21, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009


After the Brevard Music Festival closes, it takes a week for me to come down from Cloud Nine and make a summary assessment of the season. The seven weeks are a supercharged time period, during which wandering the campus brings me into contact with many starry-eyed young musicians, some experiencing for the first time a community of like-minded and like-talented peers. Before discussing some trends at Brevard that are harbingers of things to come, I want to recall the high points of my season:

• The all-student Brevard Sinfonia nailing its performance of Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” under the baton of Grant Llewellyn.

• Brandon Garbot playing Saint-Saëns’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.” Garbot, a fifteen-year-old violinist from Portland, Oregon, was one of five winners of the Jan & Beattie Wood Concerto Competition for the second year in a row.

• Keith Lockhart conducting Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #5 with the Brevard Sinfonia and Symphony #6 with the BMC Orchestra.

• A concert in which the three living BMC musical directors (Henry Janiec, David Effron and Keith Lockhart) each conducted one work.

• A pair of chamber music performances at the Porter Center: William Preucil and Bruce Murray playing Beethoven’s "Kreutzer Sonata" and five days later Andrés Díaz playing Zoltán Kodály’s "Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello."

Olga Kern was spectacular at the sold-out season finale playing the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto, but a leading soloist playing her signature repertoire with a first-rate orchestra is not unique to the Brevard Music Center. Unique to a first-rate training music festival are the sort of events listed above, and the emotions surrounding them. Following the Elgar performance, the student orchestral musicians swarmed their conductor, exultant in knowledge of how well they had performed and feeling a connection with Maestro Llewellyn. During the two faculty chamber music recitals mentioned above, you were aware of the rapt attention paid by the many students in the audience.

I heard Brandon Garbot not only in the concerto competition but also sharing concerto honors with Annie Bender in front of the string group
I Musici di Brevard. Fourteen youth from thirteen states and China comprised I Musici this year. That geographic diversity was testimony to how this formerly regional teaching festival has become a national and international destination of the highest caliber.

I regret having missed hearing Tchaikovsky's Symphony #4 with the Transylvania Symphony Orchestra. Scheduling the three most important Tchaikovsky symphonies with the three orchestras at BMC is a sign of the individual stamp Maestro Lockhart is putting on his tenure as Music Advisor. This integrated planning provides his personal direction to both the high school program and the conservatory/university program.

The “three music directors” concert was the first time in history that a Brevard Music Center concert was broadcast live on radio. WDAV 89.9 Classical Public Radio (affiliated with Davidson College) set up broadcast facilities for that week. Recently appointed WDAV General Manager Benjamin K. Roe assured me that they would be back in the future. This station shows signs of evolving into a regional p
owerhouse. In addition to its round-the-clock broadcasting of classical music, WDAV provides real-time “Internet streaming” and on-demand stored program material. Archival material, including the BMC concert and interviews with the three maestros, can be found at

My Classical Voice of North Carolina colleague Laura McDowell and I each reviewed seven events during the 45 days that the Brevard Music Festival lasted. You may find all these reviews at

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #446
August 14, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009


Live performances will always occupy a treasured place in my life. A live concert has immediacy, transience and a sense of risk that cannot be recorded or transmitted. During the best live performances, you share with others in the audience an ephemeral moment. You sense a personal contact with the performer.

Anyone who has seen Vladimir Horowitz come onto a stage will know what I mean. Looking out into the audience, Horowitz seemed to be sizing us up, saying to himself “Who’s here? What kind of people are these? How shall I play Mozart tonight for them?” Seeing him create the illusion of a piano chord that swells in volume (an impossibility on a hammered instrument), One knew that this was not added electronically during an editing session but rather was a result of the incredible control he had over individual fingers. Horowitz would strike the top note of a chord infinitesimally before the other notes in order to create this illusion of a chord that increases in volume after the attack.

Clearly we benefit from the invention of recording technology, broadcasting technology and the Internet. I grew up at a time when radios in Canada were licensed, revenues went to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Lorne Greene was the “Voice of Doom” on the evening news broadcasts. In the 1940’s, each major city in Canada had its own CBC Symphony Orchestra, perhaps not as prestigious as Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra but nevertheless a source of broadcasts that introduced me to the orchestral repertoire.

When I was a child, 78-rpm records of 12” diameter lasted six minutes per side and very few operas had even been put on record. The shellac discs were easily broken, and “record changers” often marred the surfaces by dropping needles carelessly onto the grooved surfaces. My family owned an album of “Favorite Piano Concertos” with twelve-minute segments from the first movements of each of eight concertos. I treasured these glimpses of repertoire that I would perhaps never hear live.

Then came the birth of Long Playing records. The floodgates opened. I bought Béla Bartók’s second piano concerto after listening to it in Schmitt’s Music Store in Minneapolis. (In those days, you were allowed to go into a booth and preview records.) I bought János Starker’s recording of Zoltán Kodály’s “Sonata for Solo Cello.” I had happily discovered twentieth-century Hungarian music.

After being educated as a physicist, I participated in research on early laser materials (dilute ruby), never imagining that we would one day see low-cost lasers reading music from the surfaces of optical discs. The development of the Compact Disc made my LP record collection obsolete, but I now had room for fifteen Wagner opera recordings (including two Rings) to replace my previous six recordings on LP.

Fast forward to the present. The Compact Disc is vanishing as a mass distribution format. Direct file transfer from the Internet will become the dominant technology for the dissemination of music to the mass market. The communication industry seeks maximum revenue and profit, not maximum quality. The mass market (popular music) accepts MP3 audio quality (MPEG Layer-3 format with a data compression ratio of ten to one). However, MP-3 file quality is unacceptable for classical music, since the recordings are audibly inferior to existing CDs. Other formats with less compressed data can be free of audible loss, but as yet the infrastructure is lacking for easy distribution, and there is still doubt about the ultimate digital format. Standards and infrastructure will arrive. Classical CD’s will then become at best a niche market of private label discs sold by mail or after concerts by the musicians involved.

And what of broadcasting? After the sale by the New York Times of WQXR’s spot on the radio dial, New York City will have only one radio station dedicated to classical music, a possibility once unthinkable. NPR affiliate WNYC plans to continue WQXR high on the dial with classical music while emphasizing more talk show content on WNYC.

All of us may soon find our traditional sources of classical music drying up. Whether we want to or not, in the future we will depend upon the Internet for broadcast classical music and to buy recordings. More about this in a future column.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #445
August 7, 2009