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).  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 2007 Elizabeth founded her group Theatre of the Ayre, its focus on 17th Century vocal music with an improvisational character. She devised and directed Le Malade Imaginaire and A Restoration Tempest for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.  The group’s most 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 continues her collaboration with countertenor Robin Blaze having given acclaimed performances together at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, Carnegie Hall, and at the Mayfield, Ryedale and Canterbury Festivals.

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

In recent seasons, Elizabeth has performed a series of concerts with the Benedetti Baroque Orchestra, coinciding with a Decca Classics album release, and also played at the Tetbury Music Festival, London International Festival of Early Music, the Trigonale Festival der Alten Musik in Austria, the Ludlow English Song Weekend, the Newbury Spring Festival, Trigonale Festival, a recital programme ‘Cubaroque’ with Nicholas Mulroy and Toby Carr at the Lammermuir Festival, and a Shakespeare programme with Mark Padmore at the Oxford Lieder Festival.

She continues her collaboration with Isabelle Faust, Kristian Bezuidenhout and Kristin von der Goltz in a programme of Bach, Biber and Westhoff across Europe.

This season she performs at Chiltern Arts, Winchester Chamber Music and Salisbury International Arts Festivals, and returns to Wigmore Hall.

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 is currently Professor of Lute and Theorbo at the Royal Academy of Music.

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

De Pasión Mortal - Songs from Two Golden Ages

Linn CKD746 (July 2024)

Toby Carr (modern and baroque guitars and theorbo) and Elizabeth Kenny (archlute, baroque guitar and theorbo) transcend stylistic categories to bring surprising colours, expressive textures and a wistful intimacy to the songs, whether solo or together.

William Yeoman, Gramophone

'In the Shadow of the Tower' with Nardus Williams, Spitalfields Music Festival

(June 2024)

…uber-lutenist Elizabeth Kenny… Kenny’s brief solo turns poured like liquid, musical lines barely troubled by the percussive quality of plucking… Switching mid-set to the larger, richer theorbo, Kenny illuminated significant elements of dense textures with unhurried virtuosity.

Flora Willson, The Guardian****

Elizabeth Kenny’s programme note wove it all together brilliantly; we could have heard even more of her talking during the concert.

David Nice, The Arts Desk

‘Drammi in Musica: Virtuoso Songs from 17th Century Italy’ with Nardus Williams

Wigmore Hall (January 2024)

Elizabeth Kenny’s delicately dazzling theorbo… Williams’s vocal dexterity and emotional finesse turned the singer’s sorrow into the listener’s joy – as did Kenny’s ravishing accompaniments, punctuated by a couple of brief explanatory talks… Kenny made us hear how the old bass lute blossomed in Baroque Italy into a virtuoso vehicle, not simply as a wandering counterpoint to Williams’s voice but with a couple of solo excursions of her own: an almost flamenco-like toccata by Piccinini, and a dance by the Austro-Italian Kapsberger that brought Michael Praetorius delightfully to mind.

Boyd Tonkin, The Arts Desk*****

'Baroque' with the Benedetti Baroque Orchestra, Battersea Arts Centre / Edinburgh International Festival

(July & August 2021)

…every triumph of Benedetti was matched by the triumphs of her eight specialist colleagues, all experts in performing baroque music with flair and enjoyment while avoiding stylistic extremes. My special joy was Elizabeth Kenny, queen of the guitar and that overgrown lute, the theorbo, enthusiastically thrumming at impossible speeds.

Geoff Brown, The Times****

The necessity for amplification in the Festival’s temporary substitute for the Usher Hall has created some difficulties at other concerts, but Benedetti Baroque made it work to their advantage. In an entirely acoustic setting, harpsichord and lute or theorbo can often be too quiet to be fully appreciated, while here Steven Devine, and particularly lutenist Elizabeth Kenny provided a crucial rhythmic ingredient from the opening performance of Geminiani’s somewhat relentless La Folia.

Keith Bruce, The Herald Scotland****

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*****

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'Trials & Tribulations' - with Zoë Brookshaw (soprano)


'La Virtuosissima Cantatrice' - with Nardus Williams (soprano)


'Heroines' - with Monica Piccinini (soprano)


'Cubaroque: Beyond the Song/Más allá de la Canción' - with Nicholas Mulroy (tenor)


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


'Time after Time' - with James Gilchrist (tenor)


'Ars Longa – Old and new music for theorbo' (Solo)