Listening to the world

Imagination is fundamental to keep music alive.

Thierry Pécou


Founded ten years ago by the composer and pianist Thierry Pécou, Ensemble Variances creates rich and fruitful dialogues with cultures of oral tradition from all walks of life. Pécou’s wishes are imbued with the vast ‘All-World’ of the Martinican poet Édouard Glissant: combining traditional music and Western writing in a process of creation more than of restitution, and offering immersive concert forms that go beyond the mere aesthetic experience.   

Being a musician with Ensemble Variances is not trivial: you need to have a certain open-mindedness, show a real commitment to the project, assume a taste for the unknown, for collaboration, be open to risk and listening to the world. But the resulting reward is equal to the commitment: original and atypical projects in which everyone is a driving force, generous and unprecedented exchanges with musicians from all backgrounds and from all cultures, offering true satisfaction as a creator.  

“We chose each other” says Thierry Pécou, co-founder of the ensemble in 2010 with clarinetist Carjez Gerretsen, flautist Anne Cartel, cellist David Louwerse and saxophonist Nicolas Prost. “Ensemble Variances brings together, around an early core of faithful musicians with very different backgrounds and personalities, who do a lot of things elsewhere but remain very attached to the whole. This offers them a window and a space of freedom.”  


Creating a dialogue between oral tradition music and Western music

From the outset, Ensemble Variances was influenced by Édouard Glissant, a native of Martinique, as is Thierry Pécou. First of all, its name is inspired by his ideas and mathematical patterns then his philosophical approach – to be open to all others across the world. Music is a way to meet other cultures, to create bridges between Western music and world music, to open and constantly enrich a respectful and fruitful dialogue, to reflect on the continuity of oral traditions in their interaction with written music. The ensemble, although founded in Martinique is now anchored in Normandy, defines three axes for exploring these relatively unknown territories which have always inspired Pécou – conductor, pianist and composer.

“Sometimes we integrate musicians  Chinese, Turks, Indians, Amerindians…  and converse on stage with them; sometimes we design programs by focusing on composers who are also sensitive to this, listening to other traditions and taking bodily reflexes into account; sometimes, finally, we dialogue with another ensemble, so as to give birth to another approach to music.”    


Developing a work of creation and imagination

Thierry Pécou is particularly connected to Amerindian cultures - in particular Andean, Amazonian and Navajo as evidenced by the dance oratorio Nahasdzáán - in the glittering world or the programme La Voie de la beauté (Walking in Beauty).  He likes to immerse himself in very different worlds and has been focussing for some time on Balinese gamelan and Hindustani music, working alongside native musicians.   

“We are not trying to appropriate a culture or to reproduce a culture that has disappeared or is on the verge of extinction. The best way to do justice to this music and to allow its inner breath to be perpetuated over time is to develop a work of creation and imagination, more than a somewhat vain restitution. It is by inventing that we can come closest to it.”

The result is a new form of concert which requires the whole body to listen – bringing a very strong ceremonial, ritualistic depth to the music as well as the intrinsic aesthetic experience. Immersed, crossed, the listener feels in his very being a symbolic force going well beyond the words and “something fundamental close to myths – the origin and history of diverse cultures”.