Theatre of the Ayre

“That the show was such a triumphant success owes much to casting at every level. Not only did we have such aces as Rachel Podger and Pamela Thorby leading the strings and recorders respectively. Kenny herself and David Miller are also two of the best Baroque strummers in the business, whether on lutes, theorbos or guitars.

The singers were hardly less accomplished. Sophie Daneman’s irrepressible Venus went to the very extremes of ecstasy or elegy, nowhere more than in her reactions to Adonis’s untimely death in the hunting field, heart-wrenching indeed. Giles Underwood’s more restrained, but firm, Adonis was still wittily observed.”

John Blow: Venus and Adonis, York Early Music Festival, July 2010

Review: York Press

Elizabeth Kenny has always enjoyed collective improvisation and working with singers, and has had a longstanding love of English 17th century song.  A fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts at Southampton University, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, enabled her to pursue ideas and experiments in the performance of this repertoire with a number of singer and player collaborators.  Together they toured a project entitled The Masque of Moments in 2007-8, and the group became the Theatre of the Ayre.  The Masque of Moments was broadcast in the UK, Germany and Belgium and introduced audiences to lesser-known corners of the English courtly masque repertoire.  The group’s aim remains to re-invent 17th century works in a spirit of improvisation and, most importantly, entertainment.

The Masque of Moments was followed in 2010/11 by John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, with performances at the Wigmore Hall, Turner Sims in Southampton, York Early Music Festival and Music at Oxford, also released on CD by Wigmore Live, with soloists including Sophie Daneman and Roderick Williams.  Several smaller-scale projects (Ayres and Dialogues, Dowland; Anniversary Collection) are touring UK venues and festivals (Wigmore Hall, Music in The Round, Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, The Georgian Concert Society, Edinburgh) in 2013.   This year also sees the start of their unique collaboration with members of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain: Lutes and Ukes.


Concerts in 2013 include:

Music in the Round tour: Dowland: An Anniversary Collection with Robin Blaze, Pamela Thorby, Alison McGillivray
23 January: The Stables, Milton Keynes
24 January: Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
30 January: Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford on Avon

23 February: Georgian Concert Society, Edinburgh with Nicholas Mulroy, Matthew Brook, Jacob Heringman

14 May: Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, London with Sophie Daneman, Matthew Brook, Steven Devine and Anne Marie Lasla

10 June: Lutes ‘n’ Ukes at the Spitalfields Festival

9 July: Lutes ‘n’ Ukes at the York Early Music Festival

24 July: Wigmore Hall with Nicholas Mulroy, Matthew Brook, Jacob Heringman and “17th Century Songs and Dialogues”

12 December: Wigmore Hall, Charpentier Actéon with Paul Agnew and Sophie Daneman

Please contact us for a fully updated biography for concert programmes


Dowland: an Anniversary Collection

Elizabeth Kenny with Robin Blaze (countertenor), Pamela Thorby (recorder), Alison McGillivray (viols)

In the year of the 450th anniversary of John Dowland’s birth, Theatre of the Ayre present a glorious selection of his most personal and direct songs.  The concert also features Rachel Stott’s Songs and Dances from the Lords’ Masque, described by The Independent as “mesmerising” on the occasion of its première at London’s Wigmore Hall.

On tour for Music in the Round, Spring 2013

Ayres and dialogues – songs and lute duets by John Dowland and his contemporaries

Elizabeth Kenny  and Jacob Heringman (lute/orpharion) are joined by tenor Nicholas Mulroy and bass Matthew Brook for a Dowland anniversary programme of songs and lute duets

Programme to include Dowland My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home, and Chamberlayne’s Galliard for two to play on one lute, alongside music for lutes and the combination of lute and cittern, with some cittern solos by Anthony Holborne.  Dowland dedicated his song I saw my lady weep to Holborne, and so we extend the dialogue idea to the conversations between composers, as well as between singers. The rest of the programme will feature songs from Dowland’s Second Book of Songs, including his famous Flow my tears

Georgian Concert Society, Edinburgh, 23 February 2013; Wigmore Hall, 24 July 2013


Lutes ‘n’ Ukes: Theatre of the Ayre with members of the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain

The devil at the crossroads:  A roller coaster ride through the plucky world of the seventeenth century, taking in Thomas Morley, Michael Praetorius, James Oswald and Robert Johnson along the way.

Theatre of the Ayre’s plucking department team up with members of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

Old tunes, theatre songs, dances, and lots of plucking

A collaboration between Theatre of the Ayre (Elizabeth Kenny, Clara Sanabras, Jacob Heringman, David Miller)  and ukuleles with George Hinchcliffe and Nick Browning of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.


Life and Soul: songs, cantatas and instrumental music from Germany and Austria

Robin Blaze countertenor, with

Theatre of the Ayre

Rachel Podger, Clare Salaman violins

Alison McGillivray viola da gamba

James Johnstone organ and harpsichord

Elizabeth Kenny lute and theorbo

Life and Soul: Songs, cantatas and instrumental music from Germany and Austria

If you are surprised that I have included religious and secular songs in one book, remember how it is in your own life.  Often you spend time in the morning in worship, but at noon you amuse yourself in the garden or some other pleasant place, and pass the evening in good company, perhaps with your beloved.

It’s not often that baroque music is advertised as being like life, but Heinrich Albert’s introduction to his Arien (1638) is a good place to start for our programme.  The portrait of Dietrich Buxtehude by Johannes Voorhout (1674) is entitled A musicall Party, which is closer to the spirit of his famous Jubilate Domino than the fevered spirituality of Catholic Europe.  German Lied composers prided themselves on giving Seele to poetry through expressive strophic songs whose virtuosity was always balanced by tunefulness and rhythmic flexibility whether in the service of sacred or secular texts.  Throw in the Italian madrigalian expressivity of Schütz, stir with the dissonances of tussling violin and gamba from Venetian-trained Johann Philipp Krieger, add some Viennese tragedy from Schmelzer to the fertile vocal imagination of Telemann, and you have a melting pot of emotional registers with a distinctly Germanic voice.

Theatre of the Ayre:

“Elizabeth Kenny….assembled a crack-squad of top instrumentalists for the occasion.”

Gramophone Oct 2010: review of Venus and Adonis at the York Early Music Festival

John Blow: Venus and Adonis

JOHN BLOW (1649-1708)

Venus and Adonis – A Masque for the Entertainment of the King

Director: Elizabeth Kenny

Sophie Daneman – Venus

Roderick Williams or Giles Underwood – Adonis

Elin Manahan Thomas or girl chorister – Cupid

Theatre of the Ayre

Players include Pamela Thorby, Catherine Latham, Rachel Podger, Clare Salaman, Alison McGillivray, James Johnstone, David Miller

Vocal quartet SATB

Venus and Adonis was first performed at Court around 1683 with the actress and singer Mary (Moll) Davis, a former mistress of Charles II in the role of Venus and their illegitimate daughter Lady Mary Tudor, aged nine, as Cupid.  This miniature opera might well be the fruit of an attempt, encouraged by the King as part of his ambitions to imitate his prestigious neighbour Louis XIV, to create a type of English opera similar to the tragédies lyriques of Jean-Baptiste Lully which were being played with great success in France at the time.

Blow’s harmonic daring, condemned by Burney as “offensive to the ear with its unlawful dissonances”, is the source of great expressive power genuinely moving to the ear.

The first half of the concert includes Ayres from John Blow’s Amphion Anglicus, 1700 (Welcome, welcome every guest, Go, perjured man, Cloe found Amintas Lying all in Tears), instrumental music by Robert de Visée and Ayres from Michel Lambert’s Livre d’Airs de Cour, 1689 (Il est vrai, l’amour est charmant; Vos mespris chaque jour me causent des alarmes).


John Blow: Venus and Adonis
John Blow: Venus and Adonis

Venus: Sophie Daneman

Adonis: Roderick Williams

Cupid: Elin Manahan Thomas

With Theatre of the Ayre directed by Elizabeth Kenny

Recorded live at Wigmore Hall, London 3 May 2010

Wigmore Live WHLive 0043

The Nightingale and the Butterfly
The Nightingale and the Butterfly

The Nightingale and the Butterfly is a choice selection of music from French Baroque composers Louis Caix d’Hervelos, Robert de Visée, Anne-Danican Philidor, Charles Dieupart, and François Couperin. All were older contemporaries of Bach and Handel, and influenced the developing styles of those two luminaries through the development of the French “Ouverture” as a musical form. The music heard here is notable for more than just its sensual beauty and economy. These composers wrote music with a deeper purpose, that of providing listener and performer alike with a manner of spiritual recreation and renewal, a means of accessing sources of meditation, contemplation, and healing: qualities that are as valid today as they were then.

Pamela Thorby and Elizabeth Kenny obviously enjoy the music heard on this disc, and they invest a lot of themselves in it. As Kenny puts it, “I’ve always loved playing French music for its straight-to-the-heart singing melodies that seem to arise naturally from the physical makeup of the instrument or voices for which they are written.” We sense this, too in the way Thorby caresses and shapes the gracious recorder melodies, taking them with incredible velocity when the occasion demands, but always with the appropriate amount of feeling for their exquisite beauty.”

Review, Audio Video Club of Atlanta

Linn CKD 341

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Elizabeth Kenny with Richard Haughton

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