A series of pop-up micro compositions performed by The House that Dan Built Ensemble, Bagatelle is inspired by experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the huge challenges that isolation brought to musicians.
The human connection of singing together — with voices blended in real space and time — was lost into the ether of 2020. Bagatelle unites the live voices of girls aged 13–25, at the State Library of NSW, accompanying the 64th annual World Press Photo Contest.
The House that Dan Built is a female-focused music organisation that nurtures emerging female voices and works with established professionals, to translate the hopes, fears and lived experiences of generations of women and girls into mesmerising vocal performances.
Australian composer Sally Whitwell is a regular recording artist with ABC Classic, with five solo albums that have garnered eight ARIA Nominations and three ARIA Awards.
“I have long felt that, whatever you want to call it, sung theatre, music theatre, opera… is in dire need of a refresh”, says Whitwell. “As soon as director Danielle O’Keefe approached me to work with The House, I knew that this would be the perfect opportunity to experiment, to really play with what sung storytelling could be.”
The collaboration began with a series of composition and songwriting workshops, led by Whitwell, using her original song Bagatelle as creative stimulus. She asked the young women to respond to the song’s text about how Covid changed our lives, both in terms of our day to day existence, and the unprecedented upheaval on a global scale.
The result is a theatrical song cycle incorporating everything from group improvisation and electronics to folk and music-theatre inspired numbers. In other words, all the personalities and tastes of every creator-performer are brought together by a common purpose, to tell their own stories of a defining moment in human history.
“Before I’d worked with them, I already knew that these young women were something very special,” Whitwell says, “But it was only when I finally got into the room with them that I realised just how special. They are so fearless, and so open to the collaborative creative process. It was a joy to draw all the threads together, to distill their ideas into one cohesive yet incredibly diverse expression.”
O’Keefe stresses the importance of this work in this moment, “Covid has changed the way we share music and create in collaboration. The upheaval of the past eighteen months has shaped the world young people are coming into as adults. Bagatelle is an incredible opportunity for our young women to solidify and express their experiences of the crisis, working with one of Australia’s leading female composers.
“This work has been an incredible curve for the young composers of The House in terms of process, which will translate into a wonderful musical experience for the audience.”