Last weekend Michiel Borstlap performed at Paradiso, that celebrates its 50th anniversary. Borstlaps music was like a peaceful haven in a busy city. The audience in the famous venue, that used to be a church, was more quiet than visitors during a regular service. Ten years ago Michiel Borstlap left Amsterdam and moved to a castle in the countryside.
The rain drizzles over the narrow path along the Vecht. A tractor passes by, its driver waves his hand. I can see Borstlaps grand piano in the little studio where he recorded his solo albums. When we are silent for a moment, it is really quiet. ‘I escaped Amsterdam because too much was going on there. Here I can study all day. My music is mainly based on improvisation. I had a classical education that part belongs to me as well. In this remote area I play increasingly precise. This place enables me to perfect my touch and my technique’, Borstlap explains. The recording studio can be accessed from his living room through a glass door. The studio wall displays a Panorama Mesdag-like reproduction of the interior of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. ‘That’s how I get in the right mood’, Borstlap says. The pianist recorded thousands of hours of music as a basis for his solo albums.
Borstlap performed several times at Blues Alley in Washington ‘A nice venue to play, you feel the history of Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis and Eva Cassidy. The piano was really awful, especially in the lower regions. I had to play to sets of seventy-five minutes each and I can assure you that that is quite a task under these circumstances. However, Harry Schnipper, the owner of the club, was excited and he said that he wanted to represent my music in America. “If Michiel were a drug he would be illegal”, he said about me’
In the nineties Michiel Borstlap lived in New York. His company bears the name of his former residence Gramercy Park. Talking about the United States, Borstlap is almost ashamed about his own enthusiasm: ‘There is so much jealousy in the Netherlands. Americans appreciate that you try to reach the top. I saw a press conference from the White House on television in my hotel room in Washington. I immediately jumped on my bike because I wanted to be there. In the Netherlands nobody cares if the Prime Minister passes by. Dutch people always want to have the final say. If they can’t, they start their own party, movement, newspaper or church. You saw the same in jazz music until twenty years ago. When Eric Vloeimans, Yuri Honing, Benjamin Herman and I graduated from the conservatory, we wanted to play with everyone. People didn’t understand that initially. For me it is obvious to collaborate with Han Bennink who is a so-called avant-garde drummer, but I play with singers like Edsilia Rombley, Trijntje Oosterhuis and Gino Vanelli who have a much wider audience as well. My only criterium is that the music should be good.’
On his first CDs the pianist moved from Chopin, via Thelonious Monk to contemporary beats effortlessly. ‘Deejay Ronald Molendijk is an improvising musician as well. He listens to what I do and he responds to it in his own way. Together we try to make something good. As a child I grew up between the three pillars of the musical cathedral: Bach, Queen and Miles Davis.’
Michiel Borstlap enjoys his calm family life in Nigtevecht. He found a piano tuner in an inconspicuous work place opposite the local Bakery. ‘I have never had such an excellent tuner.’ Will Borstlap stay in his castle on the Vecht? ‘Maybe I’ll leave for Paris in a while or perhaps to New York again.’ While his face shows disappointment Michiel points to a shelf on the wall. ‘Do you see that Golden Calf? I won that Award for the music I wrote for the film Tiramisu by Paula van der Oest. Now the offers will come, I thought naively. Guess what? Not a single Dutch director has contacted me! Do you know who called? The famous American filmmakers Spike Lee and Barry Alexander Brown. If I wanted to compose the music for their new film Son of the South, about the Ku Klux Klan. You see? That is exactly what I mean!’