Michiel Borstlap is a Dutch pianist, composer and producer with an extensive track record. He has built up an international reputation as a virtuoso pianist who mixes jazz with classical and contemporary influences and is therefore counted among the greatest jazz pianists. He has already performed in 82 different countries. He has received many awards, including best soloist at the Europa Jazz Competition, the prestigious Thelonious Monk Composers Award (the first non-American), a Golden Calf and an Edison Award. He is also currently nominated for the Edison Audience Award 2017. Borstlap has also done many collaborations with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Gino Vannelli, Toots Thielemans, Trijntje Oosterhuis and the Scapino Ballet, among others. Borstlap has played in all major concert halls in the Netherlands and since 1994 at all editions of the North Sea Jazz Festival. He even wrote a book about his adventures while composing and performing his opera in Qatar.
His new album 'Velvet' was released last March and is about friendship and desire. The name is derived from 'The Velvet Room'. That is his home studio and theater and it is probably the smallest concert hall in the Netherlands. This space has been transformed into a miniature version of the Royal Theater Carré in Amsterdam and can accommodate 15-18 visitors. He has been touring the country all year round with the songs from the album 'Velvet'. This theater season with the tour 'Velvet 2'.
The sound check
On Sunday afternoon, October 29, Michel Borstlap will give his concert in a small, intimate theater hall in the ECI Cultuurfabriek in Roermond. I may be present at the sound check beforehand. In the foyer I meet a charismatic man, timid and modest. But also a man who has the necessary humor, it turns out later. When I walk into the theater hall, there are two pianos on the stage. A beautiful, black and classic grand piano, as probably everyone knows it. And an upright piano, an old upright piano. There are a number of men busy with the light and sound. The lights must be adjusted properly and aimed at the stage. The sound must be well controlled, because during the concert everything can be heard due to the quiet piano playing. The pianos must be tuned properly. A proper stool or chair has to be found, because the wing turns out to be lower than Borstlap is used to. Once he gets behind the pianos and starts playing, he just keeps playing. He is so absorbed in the music that he seems to forget the world around him for a moment. And I do the same from the room, in which I can sit and enjoy myself as the only spectator at that moment. But the beamer and the video screen also need to be put in order. And practical matters such as cleaning the grand piano, sweeping the floor, setting up a merchandise table, discussing what time the doors can open and what should be done with latecomers are part of it. After more than an hour and a half everything is arranged and you can take a break until the show starts at 15:00.
From a footbridge at the top of the corridor, behind the glass, Borstlap sees his audience waiting in front of the door. He gives everyone an enthusiastic wave and then goes backstage himself. At the start of the show, Borstlap is the first to talk about his great pride on stage. His old upright piano from the year 1912 on which he used to learn to play. It was his first piano. “I would like to share the sound it contains with the public.” The album 'Velvet' contains five songs composed on this piano. Before he can really start his show, he has to go backstage. Loud laughter from the audience. The background projection can only start when he has pressed the space bar. He plays the first part of the show on this old piano. And the audience clearly agrees. The warm sound is unique and very special, also because of the intimate timbre. Rarely have I seen spectators so calm and quiet. You could literally hear a pin drop throughout the show. During the second part of the show he plays one block on the grand piano and plays some pieces from his previous albums.
Borstlap plays the numbers one after the other. At times he takes his fingers off the keys for a few seconds and there is a silence, to which there is a cautious applause. After he tells which songs he will continue with, he immediately continues his performance. He also plays two pieces dedicated to people who left in 2016 for another place in our existence, as he calls it. This includes 'Hallelujah' by Leonard Cohen. He has also received an assignment from Studio Sport for a gala to do a piece for Johan Cruijff together with a few other musicians. "Ode to Johan in C". He will also perform this this afternoon.
Besides enjoying the music, it is also nice to see how Borstlap is behind the piano. He especially enjoys playing on his old piano. He does this with even more passion, emotion and conviction than with the grand piano. He can dream away in it. When he is playing he still thinks 'What is happening?' and he just wants to keep playing. The way his hands slide over the keys, even that is done with feeling. His facial expressions tell stories. Sometimes with a small smile, sometimes very focused or frowning. It is striking that Borstlap does not use sheet music, but plays everything from memory. The sound between the pianos is a night and day difference, we certainly heard that tonight.
The brief lighting with spotlights directed at his hands and the background projection of Canale Giudecca in Venice. Neutral in color, mysterious and the passing persons, animals and ships are a wonderful addition. It's not distracting in any way, it's part of the show, it's part of it.
It was a Sunday afternoon as it should be. People in the room refer to it as a moment of rest after a busy week. And so it is. We are carried along by Borstlap in his game. Many with eyes closed and everyone listening from the heart. It is something that you have to experience, experience and above all feel for yourself.