Saint Boy

Saint Boy

Can music tell a story without words? Daniel Pioro is certain it can. Saint Boy, featuring solo violin, chamber organ, and string quartet, presents a narrative built from sacred and secular compositions, music ancient and modern. The violinist’s profoundly moving album entices the listener deep into an imaginary world as vivid, perhaps more vivid, than anything mundane reality has to offer. Its intense atmosphere rises from the tensions between the allure of earthly desire and the promise of eternal salvation, a polarity at the heart of so many of the world’s great religions and philosophies. Those tensions ebb and flow as the album unfolds, often expressed within the same piece and ultimately resolved with an arrangement of one of J.S. Bach’s most sublime organ chorales. Saint Boy grew from Daniel Pioro’s devotion to sound as a force of nature, sometimes rough, sometimes smooth, always connected to the spiritual life of performer and listener. “I think increasingly of myself as a musician who plays the violin,” he notes. “When I was much younger, I thought of myself much more as a violinist tied to this beautiful wooden box. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve been thinking a lot about why we do the things we do and about the purpose of recording.” The latter, he adds, should be an act of risk taking, an attitude clearly mirrored in the title track’s two words, the meeting of the holy with street culture, the rule maker with the rule breaker. Read on, as Daniel Pioro takes us through each track on Saint Boy. Violin Sonata in G Minor “Devil’s Trill” (Tartini) “There’s so much whimsy and fantasy in this music. Yet it has something in common with all the other pieces on the album. They display different facets of the same instrument. There’s a sacred narrative to this album with each piece serving like parts of a stained glass window or chapters in a story. Saint Boy opens with the rawness of Tartini’s sonata. You hear me and you hear the truth of me. If we want to fantasize about the story, you hear the Devil and his violin.” Organ Activate “Before the organ activates, we have this illusion of a violin coming out of nothingness. In my mind the organ coming to life is like the birth of Jesus. Now we’re in a different place from The Devil’s Trill.” Kołysanka (Nick Martin) “Kołysanka is a lullaby for a child and composed as a love dedication to a Polish soprano. It’s rooted in passion and ardent yearning, but it can also sound very innocent. I heard Kołysanka and loved it so much that I asked the composer to make this version of it.” O Ecclesia (Hildegard von Bingen) “With O Ecclesia I wanted people to wonder, ‘Is it improvised? Is it composed?’ The answer is both. Hildegard’s melody has been arranged by Tom Coult—we’ve arranged it for violin and string orchestra together before, so this is a derivation of that work. Essentially the score is full of notes that don’t necessarily have to be played at an exact point in time. In this version, no two performances of O Ecclesia sound the same.” A Glimpse of an Open Heart (Lilja Maria Ásmundsdóttir) “One of the things that really startled me about this piece is how little and yet how much there is going on. The piece originally featured electronics, multiple percussion, and so on. Lilja rewrote it for me. Here, it’s more like the concept of the original piece transposed for violin, string quartet, and organ—the bareness, these uncomfortable double stops on the violin, and this extremely quiet dynamic which doesn’t let my instrument resonate fully. So you have this incredible unease in the sound.” The Agony in the Garden (Biber) “Biber’s Rosary Sonatas, his 15 meditations on the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, are a work of genius. Beyond the music lies this extraordinary devotional statement. In the The Agony in the Garden you sense the anguish of Christ after the Last Supper as he prays to God that he might be spared death. There’s fear, resignation, hope, then moments of anger and sadness. There’s what I would call godly sadness and a human sadness. Then there’s a sort of compassionate sadness and a general melancholia. It’s all contained in this mini masterpiece.” 2020 Music (Laurence Crane) “Laurence Crane arranged this solo piano piece for violin and organ. I talk about sacred and secular a lot when I speak about this album. Some secular music is somehow deeply mystical and sacred within its secularity. And Laurence’s piece is so transcendent. We’re not trying to make anybody feel or experience anything other than what the instinctive response is, whether it be a type of meditation. But it’s so visceral and real and makes you feel so present in yourself that you can’t help feeling you’ve gone through something deeply meaningful.” Saint Boy (Daniel Pioro) “While watching the Tokyo Olympics, I saw a horse called Saint Boy who was refusing to jump in the modern pentathlon. His rider was disqualified after her coach hit the horse. I saw parallels between me and Saint Boy, a bit like, ‘Don’t impose on me your predetermined ideas of who I should be.’ My piece has this Biberesque, Arvo Pärt-like buildup to the thing that I have to do. It’s like carrying the cross at the beginning and at the end. In the middle, the music fractures but comes back to itself at the end.” Erbarm’ dich mein, o Herre Gott (J.S. Bach) “This perfect gem was originally written for the organ and I felt like it was part of the same narrative structure and language as the vision behind my album. It really appealed to me to play this upper line, the hymn melody, as if it’s being spoken, not to do anything with it. This music just exists for me, and that’s how it reveals its true beauty.” Organ Deactivate “The final chord of the Bach is so open, it’s not a conclusion. It takes us into the future. But the sonic element of the organ and its narrative are now over. It is time to deactivate the sound. If we follow the story of Jesus’s life literally in this context, he has been crucified. Of course, the real story and the symbolism, its sacred aspect, continues forever.”

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