Augustin Pesnon is the CEO and founder of the Paris Guitar Foundation, which is involved in education and humanitarian projects all over the world. Augustin studied under teachers as diverse as Arnaud Dumond, Alberto Ponce, Gabriel Bianco, Gérard Abiton, Jérémy Jouve, Rémi Jousselme, and Judicaël Perroy and has earned numerous prizes in national and international competitions. His first album, Aurora, was released in 2011 with the Parisian label Logik Production 36, which features music of Giuliani, Sor, de Murcia, Dowland, Turina, Biberian, and Dyens. He teaches and performs regularly at international festivals and workshops and films and directs all of the beautiful films produced by the Paris Guitar Foundation.
CGC: Thanks so much for agreeing to talk with us, Augustin! It’s a pleasure to get the chance to have this conversation with you.
First of all, I imagine many readers will perhaps have seen a video produced by Paris Guitar Foundation (PGF), but they may not know very much about you. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been playing guitar? Who did you study with? What kind of guitar do you play? What’s your favorite video game? :)
AP: Hello Dave! Nice to meet you here. Well, I started playing the guitar at the age of 5, my dad used to be a professional guitarist (fingerpicking) so it was obvious to do the same. The first 2 years of my practicing I played songs from Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Marcel Dadi . . . but at the age of 7 my parents put me in the conservatory where I learned classical music and guitar. Then I moved to Romania to study there for a couple of years and I did National and International Competitions quite a lot. This experience in Romania was incredibly hard for me. I had no choice but to play 6-7 hours a day because everyone was doing it. Over there, I also learned endurance, technics, speed, and how to be competitive–it was a really great.
In France I studied with Arnaud Dumond, Alberto Ponce, Gabriel Bianco, Gérard Abiton, Jérémy Jouve, Rémi Jousselme, and Judicaël Perroy. These guys are amazing and up until now I feel like I’ve built myself with them through the lessons, not only as a musician but also as a human being. In my opinion I think this is the most important, when people teach you of course it’s important to understand their meanings, but the crucial thing is to catch their energy and to understand their way of thinking. It’s like cooking: if you have good ingredients but a bad recipe, your food will probably taste bad.
About my guitar, right now I play on a Greg Smallman & Sons from 2011–it’s a French cliche I know but I think it fits with our technics. Some people like them, some don’t. I care more about the personality I have in front of me; feelings is feelings. Right?
To relax in my spare time, I play video games, so far I have 3700 trophies in Clash Royal and I love mobile legends, and I‘m really good with Lapu Lapu! But one of my addiction is comic books!! For more than 14 years now I’ve been collecting old issues of comic books. I got several key issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, the first issue of The Superior Spider-Man signed by Stan Lee, the first appearance of Deadpool, a lot of Batman’s first issues . . . Most of them are graded, put in a special case, and hung on the wall in our apartment in Paris. So when you visit the Paris Guitar Foundation headquarters, you can visit the collection as well (laugh).
CGC: Tell us a bit more about PGF. How did you first get involved and what are your current responsibilities at PGF?
AP: I first got the idea of PGF inside my shower. I realized how wonderful the French classical guitar community is and how important it is to work together with them. But, to be honest, I wanted to be involved more for those who can’t have access to this, to develop and to make our classical guitar world better. My childhood was a disaster and it destroyed my family. The guitar saved me and I think it can help other people. PGF is more of an idea, it’s to show us too to be good and kind with each other, to love our world and make it nicer.
I’m founder and currently CEO of PGF. I take care of every project with my team. The main activities of PGF is focusing on promoting the guitar in a modern style. We organize live streams concerts and masterclasses in Paris. We have a program in India, the Nagaland Guitar Education, to develop their society. Also we have a project in Indonesia to open a new guitar school in Jakarta, and we have a scholarship in France to study under the support of PGF.
CGC: Speaking of the videos PGF produces, you are involved in most of them as a producer and filmer (and director!), no? How did you get involved in film and what are your ambitions with film?
AP: I love movies, I watched at least three times each movies from Kubrick, Spielberg, Fincher, Coppola, Scorsese, Lynch and Burton. I can watch the same movie ten times just to understand the composition of each scene.
I studied filmmaking when I was 15 years old and I was always doing videos or short-movies. I can’t compose–some people have talent for that, I don’t. But I like to tell stories, to catch feelings–it’s my own way of expression. Each movie is like a new composition for me. In a certain way I want to change the production of our guitar videos. We can bring more feelings with a nice production. Everyone is bored seeing a guitarist playing a guitar in a shop with some guitars on the background; it’s nice but in terms of filmmaking this is totally annoying. Where is the creativity part? It is our duty as producer to entertain people and to find different way of expressions. For all of our PGF Series we have a different location, for now you’ll never find the same thing twice. Of course this is more complicated because you need to search places that fit the music, then you need time to travel there, and sometimes you have difficulties with the weather, but at the end the result is always astonishing. I think this is why people appreciate it because we work hard to make it unique. For me, each movie as to be directed as an artistic film. I try new things, new angles, I bring drones to make it nicer. To be honest I don’t mind about the views on youtube. Most of the time I have an idea, a certain feeling about the final result, I just try to work on it, for myself, to explore my instinct and find a technical way to realize it.
CGC: One thing that impresses me most about PGF’s work is the outreach work you have done. You have brought world-class teachers and performers to places, like India and Indonesia, that otherwise might not be able to host such artists. Can you tell us a bit more about this work and what first inspired it?
AP: PGF is a foundation, and our main goal is to support the classical guitar world. Most of us have access to the university with great teachers, but a lot of people don’t. Sometimes because their countries don’t provide this knowledge or sometimes because it’s too expensive or it’s just simply not in their culture. I got this feeling when I was touring in some countries, some of the guitarists are amazing and most of the times they are just by themselves. I felt this is so sad and we should do something. We try to develop some communities with our possibilities and we let them know that we care about them. In India we have a partnership with D’Addario who will provide thousands of strings for them. In Indonesia we are doing a fundraising concert to open a new school and develop their activities. In France we are opening a scholarship. Of course our actions are limited but we fight for the future of our instrument and the people around it.
CGC: I think many would agree that the “Paris School” of the classical guitar has gained much prominence over the last decade especially–there have been numerous winners of competitions coming from France and teachers like Judicael Perroy are in high demand (even in the United States). Moreover, there are many great composers and guitarists such as the late Roland Dyens who have enriched the instrument so much and brought the classical guitar to a much wider audience. Could you say a bit more about what makes the Paris School so special?
AP: First of all, we have to understand the geographical position of Paris. For decades Paris has been famous for its composers, institutions, artists, exhibitions. It’s the center of art. Ponce and Lagoya taught a generation of talented guitarists. Most of them established themselves in France and in Paris. The Paris School is just an evolution of the past generation and the transmission of Segovia. What makes the difference is the international competitions in the beginning of the century. The influences of the first winners like Cauvin and Bianco encourage others in France to do the same. With the support of Judicaël and the evolution of the guitar maker, like Smallman, they got confident in their technics and they reproduced a way of playing which today can be easily identified: smooth movements and high precision of stretching in the left hand, less sound and little angle on the right hand. But the Paris School does not end with Perroy and Smallman: our universities are better, our teachers know how to teach (before they didn’t have access to a training program), now we have Youtube and the quality of our equipment is much better (scores, strings guitars…). Nowadays we can witness the same environment with the Italian guitarists: they are all amazing and win prizes everywhere. But Paris is Paris: this city brings you a certain energy of creativity.
CGC: Finally, I know you do a lot of teaching, both in masterclasses and in your own studio. If you had one piece of advice to give to guitarists who are just getting started, what would it be?
AP: Practice, practice, and practice. There is no secret. 90% is work, 10% is talent. Or maybe there is one secret, do it SLOWLY! Fix everything with a slow tempo and try in tempo to develop your body sensation. To practice with a metronome can be useless, but for a certain use it’s good (if you want to reach a certain speed with precision), but most of the time when I listen to someone I know immediately if they have studied with the metronome or not. You can feel that he doesn’t control his pulsation because his ears need to listen to a beat. Unfortunately as a classical guitarist when you are on stage you don’t have a drummer. This is why it’s really important to develop your own pulsation, to feel it inside yourself, it has to be a second nature.
CGC: Well, I know you have had a busy summer (from getting engaged–congratulations!–to performing and teaching all over the world), but what’s next for you? Do you have performances or masterclasses lined up?
AP: Thank you, yes the summer was tough and hard but really exciting. It’s really great to meet people and to talk with them–feedback is important. About my schedule, well, next week I have to perform in Jakarta then we are going to Spain for a shoot with Rafael Aguirre, and then to Germany to record myself. The upcoming season I will have several concerts in France (including a world premiere by Nikita Koshkin) and a few concerts in guitar festivals in Europe and Asia. I can’t tell you more for now–we keep some of the work confidential–but my beautiful future wife and manager is taking care of it. Anyway, for sure I’ll be around to shoot, teach, and perform!