Theatre of the Ayre is Elizabeth Kennyâ€™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 Blowâ€™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&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. They returned to Wigmore Hall in February 2016 with Sacred Theatre(see review below). In May 2016 Theatre of the Ayre will judge the National Centre for Early Music’s International Young Composers’ Competition, in search of new settings of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 147 for voice and lute.
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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
Theatre of the Ayre, lutenist Elizabeth Kennyâ€™s early music ensemble with a soft spot for the seventeenth century, doesnâ€™t like to strait-jacket itself.
BBC Music Magazine, December 2013
Attracting audiences with the familiar is a well-worn tactic, but the Theatre of the Ayre likes to do things differently. Ever since it was formed by the lute player Elizabeth Kenny, this early music ensemble has made an asset of obscurity. Its focus is rarefied music of the 17th century. Its weapons: a freshness of approach and a quasi-improvisatory freedom of delivery.
Financial Times Dec 2013
a crack-squad of top instrumentalists.
Gramophone October 2010
This was Marc-Antoine Charpentier, composer to the Dauphin and to MoliÃ¨reâ€™s ComÃ©die FranÃ§aise. And this was the lutenist Elizabeth Kennyâ€™s ensemble, Theatre of the Ayre, compellingly dramatizing the French Baroque in vocal and instrumental prowess â€¦ delicately inflected accompaniments seemed spontaneous, improvisatory â€¦ Jonathan Sellâ€™s distinctive and sprightly bass-baritone â€¦ the Ukrainian mezzo Anna Starushkevych, her voice pearly with lunar beauty, set the nocturnal scene â€¦ [Sophie] Daneman was an irresistbaly sensuous and haughty Diana, in the company of a Coeur des Chassuers, their words splendidly snarling and snapping at the heels of the music …
The Times, 16 December 2013
Never one to tread customary paths, Kenny and her performers took us down unfamiliar by-ways during this evening of music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier…Daneman was a fiery Diane, injecting brightness and vigour into the Goddessâ€™s fury and chastisements. Starushkevych, as Junon, once again proved that she has undoubted star quality, using a variety of colours to convincingly depict character and singing the declamatory arioso with flexibility and style.
The larger ensembles were characterised by accuracy and concord, although there was still room for individuality and nuance. For, as Charpentier wrote, â€˜Diversity is the very essence of music â€¦ Diversity alone is the source of all that is perfect in it, just as uniformity is the source of all insipidity and unpleasantness in itâ€™ (RÃ¨gles de composition fol.13). The Theatre of the Ayre, performing with complete commitment and considerable insight, as individuals and as a group, confirmed the truth of his words.
Opera Today, 16 December 2013 [http://www.operatoday.com/content/2013/12/theatre_of_the_.php]
… Not just a nice document of a good concert but a fine recording in its own right.
Gramophone, May 2011.
There have been two significant Robert Johnsons in musical history â€“ one the bluesman reputed to have traded his soul at the crossroads; the other a virtuoso lutenist who played for Shakespeare’s King’s Men and whose greatest hit was a setting of Ariel’s lament from the Tempest, Full Fathom Five. The York early music festival included both, with a concert that pitted the Theatre of the Ayre, a demure lute consort led by Elizabeth Kenny, against the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. It’s not often you witness a player attacking their instrument with a bottleneck while another strokes theirs with a quill. Yet it was more than just a gimmick, the correspondence between the two Johnsons proved to be instructive: both created sublime musical expressions of melancholy.
The Guardian, Wednesday 10 July 2013
This remarkable concert opened with an attractive, folksy rendition of Robert Johnsonâ€™s (c. 1583-1636) As I walked forth beautifully sung by Leisa Rea.The performance of the lyrically rich The Noble Man was infectious, drawing the listener into a sumptuous comfort zoneâ€¦The first half ended with a sensational, committed version of Robert Johnsonâ€™s (1911-38) classic Cross Road Blues with the lutes â€˜nâ€™ ukes delivering a physical, percussive support. This was beginning to feel like the concert had been programmed by the author Peter Ackroydâ€¦.
The concert closed with Johnsonâ€™s (1911-38) red Hot Tamales, a great tribute to a truly great Blues legend. The YEMF will never be the same again.
The York Press Wednesday 10 July 2013