Martha Mavroidi / Maro Vasiliadou / Maria Magkanari
Distinguished composer Yannis Kyriakides’ new work Ask Ada comes exclusively to GNO TV from 11 September to 31 December 2021, as part of the tribute to the 2021 bicentennial of the Greek Revolution. It is a groundbreaking music theatre composition for voice, ensemble and multimedia on a libretto by Theodora Delavault, based on the life and work of computer science pioneer and Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, who is considered to have written the first algorithm for computer in 1843.
Based on the historical testimonies on her life and work, as well as on the repentant Byron’s subsequent letters and poems about his abandoned daughter, the prolific new music virtuoso Yannis Kyriakides, who lives and creates in the Netherlands, gives voice to this unique historical figure –with her equally colourful, “Byronic” personal life– in a work of multimedia music theatre that showcases and draws on the implications of her pioneering scientific research.
The work was commissioned by the GNO Alternative Stage as part of the thematic cycle “Odes to Byron”, which pays homage to the emblematic Romantic poet and philhellene Lord Byron. The cycle is curated by composer Alexandros Mouzas.
This production, part of a tribute to the 2021 bicentennial of the Greek Revolution, is made possible by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) [www.SNF.org].
Filmed at the GNO Alternative Stage at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center on 11 & 12 June 2021. Greek and English subtitles available.
Fruit of Lord Byron’s failed marriage to Annabella Milbanke and expelled from home, alongside her mother, at the age of only five weeks, Ada Lovelace never had a relationship with her father, who definitively abandoned England only three months later, in the midst of unbridled scandal-mongering. This didn’t prevent Byron’s only legitimate child from developing her own autonomous and fascinating personality. Discouraged from any interest in poetry and poets, the young Ada cultivated her mathematical skills to explore “the hidden world around us”: she drew flying machines at the age of twelve, published a pioneering algorithm, widely considered the first computer programme in history, for Charles Babbage’s “analytical engine” and envisaged early the extended potentialities of computers in fields such as musical harmony and composition.
Composer Yannis Kyriakides writes about the work: “In her infamous ‘Note G’ to a paper on Charles Babbage’s analytical engine (1843), Ada Lovelace, creator of the first computer algorithm, writes: ‘The analytical engine might act upon other things besides number.’ With this vision, she foresees the era of artificial intelligence and its effect on our lives more than a century and a half before its time. As an amateur musician (she played the harp), she even understood how music itself could be generated by an algorithm based on certain rules. When I was asked to compose a new work based on Ada Lovelace, my first thought was what kind of composition might she have imagined could be written based on these algorithms. When I looked at the original algorithm, the first thing that struck me was how contemporary it seemed: functions, variables and loops that we find in contemporary code were already in this first algorithm, a programme that she created to solve so-called Bernoulli Numbers, a complex mathematical procedure. I set about trying to create my own algorithm based on generating a series of numbers with a similar pattern. I wanted to create a sound world that was both machine-like but within a coherent harmonic world that would not be too far from the tonal language of mid-19th century Europe. I wanted to use this structure in how the pieces of her life are presented, a dramaturgy that oscillates between different perspectives of her life, of her writing, the autobiographical, the scientific, and her legacy.”
A sentimentalist as well as an ironist, a humanitarian as well as an animal lover, a person of ideas as well as one of passion, a man of action as well as a sybarite, a lover of men as well as women, “mad, bad and dangerous to know”, a philhellene to the (untimely) end and, most of all, a poet through and through, Lord Byron incarnated in an exemplary way and like no other figure the enthusiasms, achievements and contradictions of the Romantic movement. In an attempt to artistically render some idea of the magnitude of the work and impact of this precursor of the modern figure of the “superstar”, the GNO Alternative Stage presents throughout 2021 a multifaceted tribute, proportional to an inexhaustible personality that left behind, in only 36 years of life and in addition to 17 (!) volumes of poetry (opportune since its own time to all kinds of dramatic and musical appropriation), memorable political action, a slew of scandals and broken hearts as well as a reputation doomed, one might say, to transhistorical, as well as feverish, mythification.
The GNO tribute, curated by the composer Alexandros Mouzas, traverses the eras, genres and species of musical and theatrical discourse, covering a spectrum that extends from recital (the forgotten Hebrew Melodies, a collaboration between Byron and the Jewish musician Isaac Nathan in the spirit of the former’s Romantic interest for endangered “ethnic” cultures; new musical settings of Byron’s innovative, queer erotic poetry by three young composers) to Greek folk shadow theatre. Predictably, the largest share of the programming is dedicated to contemporary music theatre: a dramatisation of the poet’s letters from Greece by Mouzas; a multimedia tribute to Byron’s daughter and… computer pioneer Ada Lovelace by Yannis Kyriakides as well as, at the conclusion of the tribute, the new work by the distinguished Greek-American composer George Tsontakis, a treatment of Byron’s last days in Missolonghi.
Ask Ada, not Siri. Ask someone who understands, who was here before the madness began. And ask her in the lightest, most opiate way. Leaving the dullness of science to its own fields. Speak to the whole woman at once. The sides A and B of Ada, the on-screen and live, interweave their two tones, the way a Jacquard loom might, with, at its heart, a human creation, but, in its cloth, a lot of the machine about it. Conscious and subconscious, day and night, they interrupt each other continuously in the rhythmic way of a loom pedal.
Ada Lovelace was first remembered in the 1950s by Alan Turing, and later rendered a secret icon in the 70s when a pioneering computer programming language adopted her name. Like Tutankhamen, she was brought back to life the moment her name was recalled, for Egyptians, in antiquity, believed you only die once your name is no longer uttered. And now she is in every Rebel Girls story, Doctor Who programme, or cartoon web series on female mathematicians, and has become the heroine of an age that despises math, but depends on it.
An opera based not only on the correspondence between Lady Lovelace and the inventor of the analytical engine, Charles Babbage, but also on her father’s, Lord Byron’s, poetry as well as the wide-ranging effect and influence of her “intuitions” and vision for where this Machine might lead humanity. Any real power today seems to lurk in the hands of mastermind programmers, the algorithm itself knowing more than its inventor, the results –unknown– often leading to inhuman consequences. So who is in charge? Who is to say whether the outcomes are godly, the patterns that exist, veiled lightly, ruling our universe and ourselves… Or demonic? The devil’s luck! As Ada would say, the outcomes are often unpredictable.
Limited as she was to doing everything in 36 years, like father Byron, it was enough to bring us here today, reading quietly on our time machines, painlessly, in the event that there’s still more to explore and discover, that the world will continue, despite the chaos and catastrophe that are once more cataclysmically hitting it. Even with time being unreal, the work is relatively short for an opera, lasting just under an hour, and the structure revolves around the number 36.
Music Yannis Kyriakides
Libretto Theodora Delavault
Conductor Gregory Charette
Visuals, programming Darien Brito
Costume designer Brian De Carvalho
Lighting designer Melina Mascha
Michaela Riener (vocalist)
Costas Seremetis (percussion)
Evangelia Kiosoglou (harp)
Apostolos Palios (piano)
Dionisis Vervitsiotis (violin)
Yannis Athanasopoulos (viola)
Alexandros Botinis (cello)
Ensemble organisation Anax – Cultural Projects
Ensemble coordinator Alexandros Mouzas
Video director, post-production Konstantinos Arvanitakis
Greek translation Adonis Galeos
Yannis Kyriakides Music
Born in Limassol, Cyprus in 1969, emigrated to Britain in 1975 and has been living in the Netherlands since 1992. He studied musicology at York University, and later composition with Louis Andriessen. He received a PhD from Leiden University on his thesis Imagined Voices.
As a composer and sound artist, he looks for ways of creating new forms and hybrids of media. In the last years, his work has been exploring different relations between words and music through the use of systems of encoding information into sound, synthesizing voices and projected text. He has written over 150 compositions, comprising mostly music theatre, audiovisual installations and electroacoustic works for chamber and large ensembles. Prizes have included the Gaudeamus prize, the French Qwartz award, the International Rostrum of Composers prize and recently the Johan Wagenaar prize for his entire oeuvre. He founded and runs the record label Unsounds, is a member of the ensemble Maze and teaches composition at the Royal Conservatory, The Hague.
Theodora Delavault Libretto
France/USA. A Philosophy and Medieval French Poetry graduate of King's College London, class of 1999, she studied Drama in Paris (FACT, franco-américaine cinéma et théâtre), worked in music publishing (at XIII Bis Music) and for The Finance Foundation Review, covering Ethics and European issues. She contributed to multiple webzines including Les Cahiers de l'imaginaire, La Revue Culturelle and Women Mag. Performance studies at La Sapienza University, in Rome and acting classes with Michael Margotta brought her to collaborate with director Letizia Renzini at Ingrate Art Productions as librettist and performer; first in an experimental multimedia Monteverdi Il ballo delle ingrate (Museo Marino Marini, Florence 2012 / Romaeuropa Festival, 2013, at Villa Medici / Operadagen, Rotterdam, Music Theatre Now prize, 2016) and then in the Decameron 2.0, a post-modern music theatre project based on Boccaccio (Spoleto Festival, 2018, and MET Prato, 2018).
Darien Brito Visuals, programming
Gregory Charette Conductor
Born in Los Angeles. He is a conductor and programmer deeply committed to the performance and promotion of new music. He has worked with orchestras and ensembles throughout Europe, including Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest, Residentie Orkest, RTSH Orchestra (Albania), Noord Nederlands Orkest, Philharmonie Zuidnederland, ASKO|Schönberg Ensemble, Ensemble Contrechamps, Britten-Pears Ensemble (UK) and SONEMUS Ensemble (Bosnia). He studied with Pierre Boulez at the 2011 Luzern Festival and has served as conductor in the Holland Festival’s John Cage Centennial as well as the Aldeburgh Festival’s Emerging Composers Program, where he worked closely with Oliver Knussen and Colin Matthews. He earned his BM in composition from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he studied with Lewis Nielson and participated in masterclasses with Helmut Lachenmann, David Lang and Rebecca Saunders. He studied orchestral conducting at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, earning his MM from the prestigious Dutch National Master Orchestral Conducting. He is currently music director of Oerknal, a contemporary music ensemble dedicated to reimagining and reinvigorating the concert experience. He is also principal guest conductor of the Kosovo Philharmonic and one of the principal conductors of Orkest de Ereprijs (NL). He has served as guest lecturer at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. Currently resides in Rotterdam.
Brian De Carvalho Costume designer
He is a conceptual womenswear/gender-queer brand that stands for equality and gender diversity; themes from the 18th century are often juxtaposed with modern-day queer issues to explore contextually macabre topics and bring them to light. He uses moments in history such as the Ripper murders and moments in his personal life and transforms his designs into theatrical pieces that rise above all the despair and turmoil. He uses his garments as a means of escape pouring his pain into every stitch, each piece becoming a page of a biographical journey. Garments are often “damaged” in some way whether it be covered in blood stains or completely set alight and salvaged from a fire; each piece needs to go through a struggle or overcome despair to be considered complete.
Melina Mascha Lighting designer
Born in Athens, she graduated from the Theatre Department, School of Fine Arts of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She continued her studies in London (MA in Theatre Directing / Middlesex University, MA in Advanced Theatre Practice, Lighting Design / CSSD). Since 2000, she has been cooperating with all leading theatre organisations in Greece, such as: National Theatre of Greece, National Theatre of Northern Greece, several Municipal and Regional Theatres, Athens and Thessaloniki Concert Halls (Megaron), Greek National Opera, Onassis Cultural Center, as well as the Athens and Epidaurus Festival. Since 2008, she has been a regular collaborator of the Greek National Opera.
Michaela Riener Vocalist
Austrian vocalist, focuses on historical performance practice and contemporary music. She received her Bachelor’s degree in classical singing (2008) and her Master’s degree in Early Music Singing (2010) from the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, studying with Jill Feldman, Michael Chance, and Peter Kooij. A versatile artist, she is constantly expanding her vocabulary and technique. With her own groups, she concentrates on searching for new repertoire as well as new ways of performance. Her passion for chamber music has led to her involvement in several unique ensembles. She is a dedicated advocate of contemporary music and music theatre, works closely with composers and has performed a number of compositions by Yannis Kyriakides. Since 2012, she is also a member of the music theatre collective Silbersee.