Artistic director and piano
Music is a power acting on people
Thierry Pécou is the steady force within Ensemble Variances, but always bursting with energy and ideas underneath. Just like his music. The combination of calm strength and conviction is asking for non-stop musical exploration, to find colours and sounds that blend and contradict. He can find those sounds anywhere: Native American chants, Sephardic songs, in Mexico or by exploring the cry in every possible form. With Thierry, music and concerts become a ritual, turn into an experience that can.
De même que la forme musicale et le geste de l'interprète sont inséparables, pour Thierry Pécou, l'acte créatif est ancré dans l'histoire, la vie quotidienne, la perception et la compréhension du monde.
Thierry Pécou (1965) initially studied piano at the Conservatoire National de Région de Paris before he went to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique (CNSM) to study orchestration and composition.
Very early in his career, he realised that he needed to find other sources of inspiration than avant-garde and post modernism to be able to realise his dream ‘of making the whole world resonate’. He started looking for a way to restore music to its dimension as ritual, by visiting cultures whose traditions are as remote from the aesthetic history of the Western world as possible. Thierry believes that when music is conceived as a ritual, it will be able to captivate and absorb the listener. During his encounter with Afro-American cults such as the Brazilian candomblé or Amerindian shamanic rituals, he found out that one of the key ingredients to establish that ritualistic dimension is to make the music inseparable from body movement. It does not necessarily needs to be a carefully choreographed dance, simply a gesture or the body language of an instrumentalist will inevitably contribute to the exchange of energy between musicians and audience.
When listening closely to Thierry’s work, one can actually follow his never-ending quest around the globe: the languages and imaginative world of pre-Columbian America and Amerindian societies (Symphonie du Jaguar and the cantata Passeurs d’eau), the traces of Africa and America (like in Tremendum, Outre-Mémoire and L’Oiseau innumerable), influences of ancient Chinese and Tibetan culture, or Greek mythology. In his most recent works, the native North-American people — especially the Navajo and their healing rituals — are a strong source of inspiration. The characteristic chants and drums of their ceremonies are they key element of his concerto for trumpet and orchestra Soleil rouge. In his concert-rituel The Beauty way, Thierry Pécou pays tribute to the Navajo’s healing rituals.
But Thierry does more than translating his passionate theory into musical notes: he is one of the few composers who actually performs himself. Solo, with his own works at the piano, in chamber ensembles, or as soloist with orchestra in his piano concertos. By performing live, he puts his ideas to the test directly. The interaction with the audience provides him with the experience he can use in his strive to find the perfect music that will indeed facilitate the perfect ritualistic performance. In 2009 he decided to found the Ensemble Variances to constitute a platform for encounters between contemporary creation and music of other traditions.
Apart from the main source of musical inspiration, his travels also led to a profound engagement with people and the cultures that fell victim to Western expansion, although strictly from a humane and historical perspective rather than political. In several of his works he gives a voice to those who suffered from the colonial era: Ñawpa tells the tale of the destruction inflicted on the ritual music of the ancient Andean civilisation of Tawantinsuyu, and Outre-Mémoire revives the forbidden memory of the victims of the slave trade.
Although being inspired by old and mainly oral traditions, his music is far from simple. One should realise though that for Thierry Pécou, complexity should never be the aim of an art; it simply results from listening to the world. To him, writing is finding oneself face to face with the Other, whoever or whatever that may be. Yet the musical form as well as its reception cannot be forced into a system or be reduced to the expression of an ideology, and a well-placed silence can say more than a million notes.
His refreshing musical vision granted him a scholarship at the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid, was rewarded with the Prix Villa-Médicis Hors les Murs and resulted in many more prizes and commissions from leading institutions and performers. Just to mention a few: in 2016, he reveived the Grand Prix de la musique symphonique (carrière) de la Sacem, in 2010 the Académie des Beaux-Arts awarded him the Grand Prix de Composition Musicale of the Fondation Simone et Cino del Duca, he received the prize for best new music premiere 2010 from the Syndicat de la Critique Théâtre, Musique et Danse (French Critics’ Circle), and the recording of his Symphonie du Jaguar was distinguished by the Grand Prix 2010 of the Académie Charles Cros and received a Diapason d’Or in 2010.
Thierry has been artist in residence regularly, from venues and institutions in his home country France to Russia (1994-1995) and Canada, where the Banff Centre of the Arts invited him back more than once between 1989 and 1997.
His works are performed and recorded by world class soloists, ensembles and orchestras (Alexandre Tharaud, Hakan Hardenberger, François Leleux, Kronos Quartet, Quatuor Debussy, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orchestre National de France) at festivals and venues all over the world: Festival Présences at Radio France, Umeå Opera in Sweden, Gaudeamus Music Week in Amsterdam, the Moscow Autumn Festival, New Music Concerts in Toronto, the Foro Internacional de Música Nueva in Mexico City, Automne en Normandie and the Ambronay Festival in France, the Bath International Music Festival in the UK, the Tampere Choir Festival in Finland, the Shanghai Spring Music Festival in China, the Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall and Izumi Hall Osaka in Japan, the Wigmore Hall in London, the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the Arsenal de Metz, the Opéra de Rouen Normandie, and the Salle Pleyel, Théâtre de la Ville and Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris.
- Anne van der Heiden