As for how three scenes/the voice will actually play out at Frieze, Pendleton is still not entirely sure. He has intentionally refrained from having all of his musical collaborators practice together in advance of Saturday. The string quartet members, he says, don’t actually know what the environment they’ll be playing within looks like. Pendleton is thinking of it as a kind of open rehearsal in real time, rather than a series of polished performances. “It’ll change throughout the day,” he says. “I don’t want it to be finite or fixed. Part of it, in a strange way, will be me, as an active listener, making adjustments. And there’ll be an exchange between these traditions—opera, gospel, classical music—that everyone will be trying to flesh out.”
The centerpiece of the roughly 10-minute long performance will be the operatic rendition of Pendleton’s poem. Did his solo singer for the project have trouble adapting the rather eccentric source material of his libretto, I wondered? “There’s something irrational, I think, about an aria being based on this language,” he says. From Pendleton’s perspective, that’s a cause for celebration, not concern.
He continues to be fixated on a deceptively simple question: “When does something mean something?” For the artist, there’s no single moment of revelation; meaning shifts in and out of focus. That makes Pendleton’s work rewarding to return to—the same way one might revisit a book whose rich, perhaps frustratingly elusive arguments make it all the more seductive.