Artistic director and countertenor
After completing a specialist course at the CNR of Toulouse, Frédéric Bétous started singing mainly under the direction of Hervé Niquet (Le Concert Spirituel), Rachid Safir (Solistes XXI), Joël Suhubiette (Les Elements & Jacques Moderne), Antoine Guerber (Diabolus in Musica) & Paul Van Nevel (Huelgas Ensemble).
Drawn by the repertoire of polyphonic music, he founded the La Main Harmonique ensemble with whom he started exploring musical masterpieces from the European Renaissance and looked into the role of musicians in the 21st century via transversal programmes in which he put ancient and contemporary music side by side.
In the summer of 2011, together with Nadia Lavoyer, he launched the Musique en Chemin festival that presents a combination of ancient and contemporary music. It takes place in the Gers in Gascony on part of the route of the Camino de Santiago de Compostella in the heart of the Armagnac region.
Frédéric Bétous answers four questions
What are the most important encounters in your career?
Not long after having completed my course at the Centre d’Etudes Supérieurs de Musique du Conservatoire in Toulouse, I had the good fortune to produce a work by Alexandros Markeas at the Villa Médicis in Rome. We performed it together with Les Jeunes Solistes ensemble (now called Solistes XXI) of Rachid Saphir. It was one of my first experiences of singing contemporary music. This led to a natural exchange between ancient polyphonic music and contemporary music. A lot of this took place with Rachid Saphir, around composers such as Brice Pauset, Régis Campo, Thierry Pécou, Claude Vivier and Peter Eötvös, but also with the chamber choir called Les Eléments directed by Joël Suhubiette, for whom this blend of ancient and contemporary music was very common (with composers such as Vincent Paulet, Philippe Hersant, Patrick Burgan, Ton That Thiet, etc.)
For several years, I sang with a large number of ensembles, the majority of whom are mentioned above. However, I should add the Diabolus in Musica ensemble directed by Antoine Guerber, the Jacques Moderne ensemble directed by Joël Suhubiette, the Concert Spirituel directed by Hervé Niquet, and finally the Huelgas ensemble directed by Paul van Nevel.
Why “La Main Harmonique” ?
In terms of musicology it is a nod at Guido d’Arezzo (11th century). Symbolically for me it represents ‘the hand’ of man; and the ‘harmonique’ refers to the artistic creation. And of course it’s a very attractive logo.
What is the deciding factor in the choice of the repertoire of works produced by La Main Harmonique ?
Our aim is to see how we can offer music that although extraordinary, may be difficult to grasp in our era. The cultural context of this kind of music that has disappeared today is very important. You have to imagine for example, a small group of people from the upper classes of Italy in the 16th century who are around a table in total intimacy, singing madrigals. Performing this music in the form of a concert today means making compromises in order to adapt the nuances, the intelligibility of the text and listening quality between the singers. It is for reasons like this that it is quite rare to hear polyphonic Renaissance music in concert. I also find it interesting to look at certain repertoires, namely songs and madrigals and try to put them in a modern context, either linked to a commission to a composer, or in combination with another form of artistic expression.
You also set up a festival and you set aside time for teaching, why?
La Main Harmonique has the good fortune to be located in the heart of the Gers in the magnificent village of La Romieu with its mediaeval church on the Camino de Compostella. It was the obvious choice as a location for a festival – and the result was Musique en Chemin. The aim of the festival is to offer our audiences a programme that is rich, easy-going and open and that enables people to get together in a convivial ambiance.
As far as my involvement in teaching is concerned, the repertoire of Renaissance music combined with contemporary works is also something that we introduce to amateur choirs. In addition to the Chœur Ambròsia, I work with singers from different regions teaching them the different repertoires. We also hold workshops, introductions to singing 16th century music, singing polyphonic music from a pulpit for example. I want La Main Harmonique to be a place of discovery, creativity and encounters.