Biography

Elizabeth Kenny is one of Europe’s leading lute players. Her playing has been described as “incandescent” (Music and Vision), “radical” (The Independent on Sunday) and “indecently beautiful” (Toronto Post). In twenty years of touring she has played with many of the world’s best period instrument groups and experienced many different approaches to music making. She played with Les Arts Florissants 1992-2007 and with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment 1997-2015 and still returns to initiate seventeenth century projects such as The Hypochondriack and A Restoration Tempest. Her research interests have led to critically acclaimed recordings of Lawes, Purcell and Dowland, and to the formation of her ensemble Theatre of the Ayre . (see below) As well as regular collaborations with singers such as Robin Blaze, Ian Bostridge and Nicholas Mulroy in recital, she has a great fondness for the viol consort repertory and has recorded William Lawes’ Royal Consort with Phantasm, as well Dowland’s Lachrime (forthcoming in 2016). As a soloist she is committed to a diverse range of repertoire, from the ML Lutebook (a much-praised CD released on Hyperion records)to new music for lute and theorbo: she has premiered works by James MacMillan and Benjamin Oliver. With Theatre of the Ayre she is a judge for the NCEM International Composers’ Competition in 2016.
Liz Kenny is a Professor of Musical Performance Performance at the University of Southampton, and professor of Lute at the Royal Academy of Music. She guest-edited a Dowland themed issue of Early Music, bringing performers and scholars together in celebration of the 450th anniversary of the composer’s birth, in 2013. She was an artistic advisor to the York Early Music Festival from 2011 to 2014.

Theatre of the Ayre is Elizabeth Kenny’s platform for bringing dramatically-minded singers and players together to create inspirational programmes of seventeenth century music. Their first project, The Masque of Moments, drew on research undertaken during her AHRC Fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts at Southampton, and toured England, Belgium and Germany in 2007-8, being broadcast in all three countries. They followed this with a tour of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, a live recording of which was released on the Wigmore Live label in January 2011. Several smaller-scale projects (Ayres and Dialogues, Dowland; Anniversary Collection and Setting the Baa High: English pastoral) toured the UK in 2013, as well as a unique collaboration with members of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain: Lutes&Ukes. Its education arm, Youths Lutes and Ukes involved the players teaching and performing with a total of 360 children in London and York. Theatre of the Ayre won a Follow-on-Funding award from the AHRC which enabled a second Lutes&Ukes tour, The Wolves of St Elvis and a recording of The Masque of Moments for Linn Records, due to be released in 2016.

Directed by the theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny,Theatre of the Ayre’s meaty programme…was a love letter to Henry Purcell, a celebration of his wit, his sensuality and his appetite for colour and rhetoric…voices balanced beautifully in ensemble, their delivery…expressive and engaged…(instruments) powering through his most athletic ground basses.
The Times Feb 2016

Attracting audiences with the familiar is a well-worn tactic, but the Theatre of the Ayre likes to do things differently… Its weapons: a freshness of approach and a quasi-improvisatory freedom of delivery.
Financial Times Dec 2013

… this was the lutenist Elizabeth Kenny’s ensemble, Theatre of the Ayre, compellingly dramatizing the French Baroque in vocal and instrumental prowess …
The Times Dec 2013