The slow hands of Jan Michiels

Transit 2021 honours the piano as a spiritual medium

Slowly, after the last stanza by Osvaldo Coluccino, Jan Michiels’ hands slide from the keys to the edge of the keyboard. They form fists that rest on his knees. It is finished, silence and repentance have been stretched to the limit. The recital has ended, now there is nothing.

By Wynold Verweij

At his concert as part of Coluccino’s Rispecchiato in quarzo, Jan Michiels was able to show his strongest side: perfection in soft tones. The concert consisted of Coluccino’s world creation for piano and electronics and was preceded and followed by his stanzas, which in turn were interspersed with compositions by like-minded colleagues such as Kurtág, Furrer and Sciarrino.

The term velvety is still too coarse to describe Michiels’ touch. Sometimes his tones sound as if the keys are being kissed by angels. He fully respects what Coluccino understands by a stanza: a space in all its forms, real or imaginary. In Michiels’ case, this respect manifests itself in a masterly filling of the space between the notes. In his hands, the silences fill the space, and the notes seem to guard the silences. His feet gently play the pedals with tenths of millimetres. The soft tones are so minimal that they seem to be at the service of the peace that follows.

The programme was grouped around Coluccino’s world creation Rispecchiato in quarzo, a work for live piano and electronics, in which the piano enters into a dialogue with loops, drones, urban sounds, machine violence and powerful noise. Here too, Michiels showed himself the master of the few. In some parts, the piano was prepared and the strings were touched by the hands and nails of the live pianist. Here too Michiels stood out with subtle movements of balls bouncing over the strings or caresses with sticks and pads. The piece ended with Michiels backing away from the piano and examining it from a distance, admiring it or, if you like, paying it homage. Here, but also in other parts of the concert, Jan Michiels showed that he was one with his instrument.

WHAT: Transit 2021

WHERE: STUK, Leuven

SEEN: 23 October 2021

PHOTOS: Wynold Verweij

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