Elizabeth Kenny


"Kenny is an exquisite musician."

The Guardian

"…a lovely solo for theorbo…played exquisitely by Elizabeth Kenny."

The Observer

"A bronze Liz Kenny should be on the empty plinth in Trafalgar square, in my opinion."

Early Music Review

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Elizabeth Kenny is one of Europe’s leading lute players. Her playing has been described as “incandescent” (Music and Vision), “radical” (The Independent) 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 has an extensive discography of collaborations with ensembles across Europe and the USA, and her own repertoire interests have led to critically acclaimed recordings of solo music from the ML Lute Book, and songs by Lawes, Purcell and Dowland.

In 2011 Elizabeth was one of three shortlisted nominees for the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards in the Best Instrumentalist category. In 2007 she founded her group Theatre of the Ayre, its focus on seventeenth century vocal music with an improvisational character. The group’s recent CD release, The Masque of Moments - their debut recording for Linn - was named ‘Disc of the Week’ on BBC Radio 3’s Record Review. Elizabeth also devised and directed Le Malade Imaginaire and A Restoration Tempest for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. She was one of the artistic advisory team for the York Early Music Festival from 2011-14. She returned to York in 2016 as a judge for the National Centre for Early Music’s Young Composers’ Award, as part of a growing commitment to enlarging the repertoire for the lute with new work.

Elizabeth also appears alongside Ian Bostridge on Warner Classic’s Shakespeare Songs, which won a 2017 Grammy Award for ‘Best Classical Solo Vocal Album’.

She has given premiere performances of solo and chamber pieces by James MacMillan, Benjamin Oliver, Heiner Goebbels and Rachel Stott. In June 2019 she premiered Nico Muhly’s Berceuse for solo theorbo, which was written for her in 2018, and features on her CD Ars longa: Old and new music for theorbo for Linn records which was nominated in the 2020 BBC Music Magazine Awards in the Instrumental category.

Elizabeth taught for two years at the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin, and was Professor of Musical Performance and Head of Early Music at Southampton University, before becoming Director of Performance at Oxford University. She guest-edited a Dowland-themed issue of Early Music to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 2013, and is the author of occasional articles on seventeenth century performance. She is currently Dean of Studies at the Royal Academy of Music.

This biography is for information only and should not be reproduced.

Recital with Iestyn Davies, Wigmore Hall

(June 2020)

It was in Kenny’s solo arrangement for theorbo of Sefauchi’s Farewell, however, that the most virtuosic music of this section [Purcell] was heard… In another solo, Kenny unwound Robert Johnson’s Fantasia with languid elegance… Escape came at last in the honeyed reverie of the spellbinding encore, Handel’s Hide me from day’s garish eye.

Neil Fisher, The Times*****

The underlying sadness of Dowland’s songs, meanwhile, can spill into his instrumental pieces, and Kenny’s performance of his The King of Denmark’s Galliard captured the ambivalence of music that reflects even as it dances. Keenly alert to shifts in mood and meaning as an accompanist, and ceaselessly engaging in her solos, she played with beautifully understated dexterity throughout.

Tim Ashley, The Guardian****

Kenny’s own arrangement of keyboard work "Stefauchi’s Farewell" was witty and light while "Lilliburlero" cheered with a gentle sway… Kenny’s solo performance of Johnson's Fantasia was intricate and compelling, with delicately measured rubato, and Dowland’s "The King of Denmark, his Galliard" had a beautifully refined rusticity.

Miranda Heggie, The Arts Desk****

'By beauteous softness mixed with majesty’, from the first birthday Ode, offered more delicate, muted reflections, Kenny’s lute spinning a translucent spider’s web of interlocking voices… Kenny closed the Purcell sequence with her own arrangements of a brusque Rigadoon, a contemplative Farewell and a nonchalant ‘Lillibulero’, her playing always lucid and tender as she stroked and plucked her beautiful theorbo’s strings with care and understanding, nurturing Purcell’s music into being…

Claire Seymour, Opera Today

The combination of the countertenor voice and the lute is a very special one, the sweetness of one melding with the astringency of the other, and Davies and Elizabeth Kenny blended exquisitely here [Purcell]… Kenny’s arrangements of three of Purcell’s short pieces displayed the agility and versatility of the lute in such expert hands…

Melanie Eskenazi, MusicOMH*****

Theorbo Fantasy, Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival

(June 2019)

In the hands of Kenny these images became as real as if a theatrical production were taking place onstage beside her… Kenny’s playing of both his [Piccinini’s] Partite variate sopra la Folia and Ciaconna was simply magical… Kenny’s abundant technique and keen musical sensibilities were front and center during Hieronymus Kapsberger’s Toccata, Passacaglia, Capona, Canario, and Colascione. Defined by sudden shifts of mood and virtuosic melodic lines, the work ends with a hit of Turkish exoticism. Music from the French Baroque — Robert de Visée’s Suite in c, Prelude, Les Sylvains de M’Couperin, and Chaconne — rounded out the program. The theorbist relished every moment of these charming pieces. Throughout the afternoon, Kenny supplied the perfect amount of informative commentary as she explained the evolution of the theorbo and its complicated tuning system.

Mike Telin, ClevelandClassical.com

Ars longa: Old and new music for theorbo, Linn CKD603

(June 2019)

There are three examples on Elizabeth Kenny’s Ars longa: Old and new music for theorbo (Linn) – by James MacMillan, from a 2011 work, and two new ones by Benjamin Oliver and Nico Muhly – all stylish uses of the pungently plucked sounds of this large-size lute. …She frames the premieres with toccatas that sound like improvisations, hypnotic chaconnes that weave around repeated bass lines, and Robert de Visée’s lovely tribute to his fellow Frenchman, Les Sylvains de Mr Couperin.

Nicholas Kenyon, The Guardian

Here playing a theorbo — a lute elongated by the addition of bass strings — Kenny partners elegantly turned early baroque pieces by Piccinini, Kapsberger and de Visée with new work. James MacMillan’s devout Motet 1 (from Since it was the day of Preparation), Benjamin Oliver’s rather grittier Extending from the inside and Nico Muhly’s colourful Berceuse, with seven variations, make for excellent contrast and complement. Kenny’s playing is, as usual, sublime.

Stephen Pettitt, The Times

Kenny lacks neither extensive playing experience in chamber, orchestral or operatic contexts nor a brilliant musical imagination. She brings both to bear on these performances of ‘old and new music’. Whether it’s a richly layered toccata by Piccinini or Kapsberger, a mournful tombeau by de Visée or a bittersweet berceuse by Muhly, she beautifully combines an expansive orchestral conception with an almost painful improvisatory intimacy. It’s just lovely.

William Yeoman, Gramophone

Old and new are deftly interwoven…Kenny’s performances are superb, technically assured in the trickiest variations, and always with a sense of spontaneous re-creation…The recording provides an intimate focus on the performer, yet with enough ambience to suggest a space gratefully shared by the listener.

Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine*****

On this excellent CD, Elizabeth Kenny, one of the finest contemporary exponents of the theorbo (and, incidentally, of the lute), juxtaposes - perhaps one might say ‘integrates’- pieces written for the instrument during its original ‘golden age’ as a solo instrument - i.e. the ‘long’ Seventeenth Century)- with pieces by British composers of our own time. The result is superb, engaging heart and mind alike and helped by a gorgeous recorded sound… Kenny plays Piccini’s work with great insight and sympathy and proves to be an outstanding advocate for his music, in these subtle and persuasive interpretations… Kenny is up to all the music’s demands and must, I think, be ranked alongside Jonas Nordberg as one of the best contemporary interpreters of this music [Kapsberger]… Elizabeth Kenny’s playing throughout is all that one could ask for; it is hard to imagine a better case being made for either the value of the theorbo’s traditional repertoire or its modern possibilities.

Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International

Matthew Locke: For Lovers of Consort Music, Phantasm

Linn CKD594 (October 2018)

Elizabeth Kenny’s polished and beautifully judged theorbo accompaniments subtly enrich Locke’s delicately chromatically inflected textures…It is recordings of this calibre that will attract new listeners to the English consort repertoire.

Julie Anne Sadie, Gramophone

Phantasm trips the light fantastic, with Elizabeth Kenny’s thrumming theorbo adding pizzazz.

BBC Music Magazine*****

Blow Venus & Adonis, Theatre of the Ayre

Festival Musica Antiqua Brugge (August 2018)

Nothing could prepare the listeners for such a shock, for this unbearable cry that twists the soul (Sophie Daneman), to this final elegy, sharpened to a murmur, Elizabeth Kenny having reduced the choir to a quartet (Helen Neeves, Heather Cairncross, Nicholas Mulroy, William Gaunt) which created a moving scene. … We were devastated, but also found the strength to applaud, a limited, paltry sign of our gratitude.

Bernard Schreuders, Forum Opera

Inventing Bel Canto, Theatre of the Ayre

Wigmore Hall (April 2018)

...it was a wonderfully exhilarating night… the fierce eloquence of those singers and instrumentalists gathered together in Elizabeth Kenny’s ensemble.

Geoff Brown, The Times*****

Dowland Lachrimae, Phantasm

Misteria Paschalia Festival (March 2018)

The British but now Berlin-based viol consort Phantasm, joined by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, gave a stirring performance of Dowland’s Lachrimae, with every note at once clear and crisp yet beautifully rounded... Kenny is a joy both to listen to and to watch. Her intricate ornamentation is as natural as it is detailed, and her leadership of the viols beautifully sensitive to the music. The lush dissonances teased out during the pavans were deliciously wistful and the rhythmic interplay displayed in the dance movements gave an infectious, impish quality with a real swing.

Miranda Heggie, The Arts Desk

York Early Music Christmas Festival

National Centre for Early Music (December 2017)

Kenny’s artful accompaniment injected extraordinary intensity and variety.

Robert Gammon, The York Press

Cavalli Hipermestra, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

Glyndebourne (May 2017)

It was, however, the 10 exceptional players in the pit – including Christie and the peerless lutenist Elizabeth Kenny – who gave this music pulse and vitality.

Fiona Maddocks, The Observer

The Masque of Moments, Theatre of the Ayre

Linn CKD 542 (February 2017)

There are exquisite sounds from Kenny’s plucked-instrument ensemble, and beautiful numbers from masques by Henry and William Lawes, Coprario, Locke and others, with nicely refined singing.

Nicholas Kenyon, The Observer

Elizabeth Kenny’s artfully planned programme is a most welcome arrival, lacing together ‘moments’ from sundry 17th-century masques with music by Campion, Coperario, Henry and William Lawes, Nicholas Lanier and Matthew Locke…the instrumental playing on a battery of ‘twangling instruments’ (lutes, theorboes, citterns, guitars, harps, violins and violas) is full of flair and improvisatory spirit.

Kate Bolton-Porciatti, BBC Music Magazine

Elizabeth Kenny interprets this repertory with stylistic knowledge and that neat efficacy-which rarely reaches the brilliance of the British historicist ensembles

Juan Ramón Lara, Scherzo

The lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and her ensemble "Theatre of the Ayre" bring their listeners closer to the music they have been playing since the time they were created, in a virtuosic and entertaining way

Niels Emperor, HR2

Selected Reviews


Elizabeth Kenny’s dexterous handling of harmonics and glissandi made the theorbo variously chime and roar.


The true engine-room of City Musick’s sextet is the lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, whose fingerwork enlivens everything she touches.

The Yorkshire Post

A bronze Liz Kenny should be on the empty plinth in Trafalgar square, in my opinion.

Early Music Review

…a lovely solo for theorbo…played exquisitely by Elizabeth Kenny.

The Observer

The brilliant Kenny…played with remarkable clarity.

Early Music Today

Exzellent die Continuobegleitung von Elizabeth Kenny … [und] perfekt Solostücken.

Die Presse

Shakespeare Songs with Ian Bostridge

Wigmore Hall, London (November 2016)

The lutenist Elizabeth Kenny offered superb accompaniment in the early material.

Neil Fisher, The Times

Nothing is more evocatively Shakespearean than a lute and Elizabeth Kenny’s played with melting beauty William Byrd’s Caleno Custure me and Thomas Morley It was a lover and his lass.

Louise Flind, bachtrack

Duo Recital with Robin Blaze

Totnes Early Music Society, Dartington Hall (June 2015)

Elizabeth Kenny matched Blaze to sheer perfection, accompanying with the greatest empathy, as well as balancing total technical control with such poignant expression in her lute and theorbo solos. The ornamentations always flowed seamlessly, never excessive or in any way intrusive, yet always sufficiently varied to maintain interest from start to finish.

Philip R Buttall, Seen and Heard International

A Restoration Tempest, devised/directed for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London (January 2015)

A forgotten corner of musical history has been brilliantly re-animated by the lutenist Elizabeth Kenny plus a group of her colleagues from the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment…The candle-lit Wanamaker Playhouse seems to confer magic on everything staged there, and so it was when Kenny and four other string players launched into Matthew Locke’s elegant introductory suite. Two actors (Molly Logan and Dickon Tyrrell) brought comic zest to the incarnation of Prospero, Ariel, Caliban, Miranda, et al; singers interwove a tissue of masques and dances with songs of the period, soprano Katherine Watson and tenor Samuel Boden being outstanding.

Michael Church, The Independent

With just two violins, a viola, a cello, a gamba, a hurdy-gurdy, a theorbo and what appeared to be a tennis ball in a tin (for thunder), lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and director Caroline Williams conjured up an intimate reduction of The Tempest in which Locke’s music was the focus... A mongrel entertainment, but one of great charm, played stylishly by the soloists of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

The Times

Although this was a restoration piece, the whole evening had a vigour and life that made it seem as if we were watching a much more modern production. The depiction of the story through words, music and song was a delightful concoction which flowed with ease from piece to piece and was a feast for all the senses.

Emily Owen, Bachtrack

Duo Recital with Iestyn Davies

Spitalfields Festival, London (December 2014)

The songs poured forth with perfect ease and naturalness, with no sense of strain either on the performers’ part or ours. Two hours of counter-tenor and lute might seem too much of a good thing, but Iestyn Davies and Kenny programmed the evening shrewdly to provide maximum variety…both performers showed a gift for spinning subtle variations in the melody, without interfering with its ease and flow…the whole thing was a joy, perfectly judged and yet apparently totally spontaneous.

Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph

Elizabeth Kenny - Selection of programmes with solo voice

'Lucrezia' - with Katherine Watson (soprano)

Kenny And Watson Lucrezia

'A Shakespeare Miscellaneous' - with Robin Blaze (countertenor)

Kenny And Blaze A Shakespeare Miscellany

'A Musical Banquet' - with James Gilchrist (tenor)

Kenny And Gilchrist A Musical Banquet

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