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Interviews Bas Van Lier and Marcos Madrigal at the Oratorio San Felipe Neri. Photos by Lilien Trujillo.

Bas van Lier and the game of sounds

The light of the Oratorio San Felipe Neri in Havana entered that afternoon through the same window as always: blues reflected throughout the auditorium. This time a huge volume on the stage. Two pianos and two pianists; classical music and jazz. Combinations and round numbers. Some delay to start the concert. The audience curious. Marcos Madrigal appears on stage and delights us with that mastery to which we have become accustomed after each festival, concert upon concert. The Month of Europe is celebrated and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands has organized a convenient four-handed musical encounter between Cuba and Holland. The menu of sounds is served: a salad of repertoires that includes Bach, Gershwin, Lecuona, Hubert de Blanck, Oscar Peterson and others.  

The special guest of the evening is Bas van Lier, a Dutch artist whom many of us did not know but who managed to captivate us instantly with a subtle sound and a unique exquisiteness. They both play, one first, the other later, continually exchanging places at the piano. The music is intermittent and keeps us attentive.

Bas grew up in the city of Gronigen, in the north of Holland, where he obtained his degree in Jazz Performance, but it would later be Amsterdam where he would develop most of his work. Throughout his career, which spans several decades, he has had the opportunity to play with emblematic jazz figures such as Bennie Wallace, Jesse van Ruller, Candy Dulfer, Benhamin Herman, Benny Bailey and Ralph Peterson, a journey that has nurtured his work with unique experiences and nuances. He is currently one of the most appreciated musicians in the international context, one of those free spirits that, inspired by the mixture of the rhythm and blues and traditional jazz, make the music an infinite stroll, a provocation of the senses.

Bas Van Lier and Marcos Madrigal at the Oratorio San Felipe Neri. Photos by Lilien Trujillo.

How was the experience of playing in a concert hall in Cuba?


-This is the second time I come to Havana. Last year I played at the Jazz Plaza Festival. I loved it here and I'm very happy to be able to come back. This year has been incredibly nice. The Lyceum concert hall has a peculiar energy, the grand piano has a very precise sound and Marcos is a very talented pianist. But above all, what captivated me the most was the audience, their excitement and attention during the concert. In Cuba, music is experienced at a different level.


You met Marcos Madrigal thanks to a project that rescues the work of the master Hubert de Blanck. Tell me about your participation in this project.


-I knew they were working on the album. Hubert de Blanck, the wandering DutchmanTogether with the Dutch embassy, Gabriela Rojas and Pepe Méndez of the Lyceum Orchestra in Havana, I organized a concert with the project at my club in Amsterdam. I am artistic director of the Tenclub in the center of this city. We got along so well that we decided to continue with the project. Marcos and I are really souls that come together. He thinks exactly the same way I think about music, only he is a classical pianist and I am a jazz pianist. We like to get out of our comfort zone and get closer to each other. There, in the middle, the most beautiful music is created. He can do it. Not everyone can.

Van Lier caresses the piano, sharp notes, an anthill that grows timidly but remains. Sweetness in the space that begins to belong to him. He plays almost always with his eyes closed, sometimes he opens them to look up, or at Marcos, in the pieces they share. From one side of the stage to the other, an accomplice smile. 

Bas Van Lier and Marcos Madrigal at the Oratorio San Felipe Neri. Photos by Lilien Trujillo.

The piano is your language. I've seen you melt with it while you play. What's so special about this instrument? How did you start in music?


-I love the piano for its sound and versatility. Its sound is always good. You can play it alone and it has everything. Harmony, melody, etc. But you can also play it with a band or in any other setting. In this case two pianos. How nice do you want it! 

My parents are professional classical guitarists and my sister is a professional cellist. So I started playing piano at a very young age. I pushed myself to play jazz. I felt a total freedom. Now I like to combine those two styles. Later I went to conservatory and after that I've played all my life. That's my life: playing music and meeting the most wonderful people in the world. I love it.


Improvisation, jazz and sounds, always with your eyes closed. What does jazz offer Bas?


-Everything. When I play there is only the here and now. No past, no future. I just live in the moment with my music. If you think about anything else, that doesn't work, at least for me. That's why it's so peaceful to make music. You only need your ears, your hands and your heart. That's where it all comes from. Jazz itself gives me freedom, and it's a language to talk to people all over the world. Even if I don't speak the language, I play with them and the musicians and the audience understand me, and I understand them. That's the beauty of jazz. You talk to others in a different language.


The concert is about to end. Marcos plays The Comparsa of Lecuona and Bas improvises. They are two voices that begin to get closer on stage. Jolgorio of keys and different characters that conclude in a haven of emotions. Two men united by the sound on a stage that begins to manifest its own life. The audience applauds. The musicians give us a last piece.  

Bas Van at the Oratorio San Felipe Neri. Photos by Lilien Trujillo.

How do you see your musical career in a few years?

I hope to "talk" (in this wordless language) to many more people around the world, and inspire young people to start making music. Their world is much richer. And with Marcos we are going to play a lot more, we have things in the works. We both liked sharing the stage so much that we decided to play all over the world (haha). And I hope to return to Cuba. I gave a master class at the University of the Arts (ISA) and fell in love with the place and the students. I will do it more often. Sharing my experience with young people is something that pleases me. And to play all over the world, to fill the world with music. Someday, Marcos and I will bring our new music program to Cuba once again, I really hope so.


We are at Fábrica de Arte Cubano. It is the presentation of the book Havana Jazz Portrait by photographer Lilien Trujillo Vitón. Maykel González invites Bas to come on stage. They met very recently, but improvisation builds the bridge. They delight us with a beautiful melody that accompanies the voice of the young Lara Sprite. 

The concert ends and we finally get to meet in person and talk quietly. "My name is Lucia," I say, shaking her hand. We continue the conversation we had started a few days before via chat. And at that moment the smile appeared again, the one that that day at the Lyceum made her close her eyes at the moment of playing Peterson, when Bas talks about the piano, her face lights up.

Bas Van Lier and Marcos Madrigal at the Oratorio San Felipe Neri. Photos by Lilien Trujillo.

Giselle Lucía Navarro More posts

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