One hundred concerts across America is what acclaimed fingerstyle guitarist Pierre Bensusan has planned. from Wilmington’s historic Hannah Block USO on Thursday, March 3.
Bensusan is recognized worldwide as one of the most original and technically skilled acoustic guitarists of his generation. His artistic influences span from the legendary North Carolinian Doc Watson to Celtic traditions exemplified in bands such as Planxty, as well as jazz and beyond.
“Azwan,” the guitarist-songwriter’s 2020 release and 13th album, came out just before the first pandemic lockdowns of that year, and coincided with the tour that found him in Wilmington for a gig that had, then as now, choreographer Tracey Varga and her ensemble Forward Motion Dance as guests.
We found Bensusan at his home in a village not far from Paris where he lives with his family. He responded via email to our questions about “Azwan”, creativity in the time of COVID, and collaboration.
StarNews: When was the last time you were in the United States performing?
Pierre Bensusan: I was last in the United States in March 2020, ready to embark on a five-month tour, performing 110 concerts. I went home after the fourth concert because of the pandemic.
SN: So many artists have endured isolation from their audiences, and some have found new ways to perform and connect with people. How have you kept yourself busy over the past two years?
DB: I had no problem staying creative. In fact, my dilemma has always been to go on the road, on tour, feeling that I was never ready enough, for lack of time. This time the pandemic was a sign from the universe for me to stay home and write lots of new material, work on the older tracks, practice, record, work on other projects , such as a commission on climate change for the Planetarium of Poitiers, France.
Besides the drama, pain and hardship that many have experienced, including myself going through health issues, this time off has been a blessing to me. A way to revisit my life, to reflect on how things were done, said, to contemplate the immediate and distant past, to cherish my family, my friends, my dog. To feel our unity and our strength through a trial like the one we are still experiencing.
SN: How has your playing and composition been affected by the mood of the world over the past few years, or has it been affected?
DB: My acting, my composition, my state of being is always affected by the moods of the world, whatever those moods are. I have the luxury of seeing it from afar even though, like everyone else, I am immersed in it. Artists are observers and always try to mix their creativity with the surrounding mood or adapt it in some way. The more difficult it is, the more I have to work on myself as a living organism to cope with it and get something out of situations, and if possible, become smarter. Long story short, I’m grateful to have music in my life that heals and nurtures me at all times.
SN: Your last album, “Azwan”, was released in 2020. How would you characterize the ideas behind the album, and specific tracks, including the title track? Will you perform the music from the album in Wilmington?
DB: Yes it does, just in sync with my 2020 US tour. I had already taken a year off to work on music, so I haven’t really played in the US for the past five years, at except for very few cities, like Wilmington, where I started my tour two years ago at the same time the pandemic started to hit. “Azwan” is a conceptual album in which the guitar is conceived as an orchestra in the service of the polyphony that I hear constantly, even more than in my previous recordings. It’s like totally accepting the loneliness and loneliness that comes with being a solo instrumentalist, and enjoying all that comes with it, to craft music that is timeless and as pure as possible.
SN: Do you often collaborate with artists from other mediums? What are you looking for in such collaborations?
Not really, actually, and though my wife was a professional dancer and choreographer, our son is a young up-and-coming hip-hop dancer and choreographer. Dance is everywhere in my life. Music is also a form of dance and vice versa. Collaborations between us are rare but always possible. I mostly collaborated with other musicians, like on my albums, but also on other projects. Recently I played in Donny Osmond’s latest album, “Star Again”. I liked it. It breaks my loneliness and forces me to see sound and spaces differently, so it’s good and rewarding.
SN: Have you ever worked with Tracey Varga?
DB: Yeah, two years ago for my show in Wilmington that Tracey helped me put together. She is a mountain mover, a great artist and a beautiful person. Wilmington is lucky to have him.
SN: Do you improvise music for the dances, or will you compose new works for them?
I would have only liked to compose new music for this project. Maybe one day. Tracey chose two of my previously recorded tracks that inspired her moves, and one of them will be “Azwan”. I can’t wait to see what she has come up with.
Want to go?
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 3
Or: Hannah Block Historic USO/Community Arts Center, 120 S. 2nd St., Downtown Wilmington
Tickets: $21 in advance, $25 at the door
Details: 910-341-7860 or www.pierrebensusan.com/store