Theatre of the Ayre

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.

Our latest outing was to the wonderful MA Festival in Bruges for John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, along with the Vlanderen Kinderkoor (trained by the charismatic Hendrik Derolez).

Here’s what Forum Opera had to say:

Rien ne peut préparer l’auditeur à un tel choc, à ce cri insoutenable qui nous vrille l’âme (Sophie Daneman), à cette élégie finale ciselée jusqu’au murmure, Elisabeth Kenny ayant réduit le chœur à un quatuor (Helen Neeves, Heather Cairncross, Nicholas Mulroy, William Gaunt) qui lui confère une intimité bouleversante. Nous sommes anéanti, mais il nous faut déjà trouver la force d’applaudir, expression si limitée et dérisoire de notre gratitude, comme il faudra oser coucher nos impressions et ces mots exaltés sans peur du ridicule parce que l’honnêteté est la seule réponse possible lorsque les artistes nous font le plus précieux des dons.

Bouleversante: that’ll do nicely!

Theatre of the Ayre rehearsing Sacred Theatre at Wigmore Hall Feb 2016.

Their first project, The Masque of Moments, drew on research undertaken during Kenny’s 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.

Theatre of the Ayre

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Photo by Ash Mills

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, released in February 2017.

See our facebook page Lutes and Ukes for clips, photos and more.

on The Masque of Moments
Recording of the Month: ‘This beautifully recorded disc will no doubt be one of my highlights of 2017.’

MusicWeb International

gloriously skilful and varied in texture…(a) sense of genuinely collective, community music-making that gives this recording such personality and charm.

Gramophone April 2017

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

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

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 Kenny’s early music ensemble with a soft spot for the seventeenth century, doesn’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 Molière’s Comédie Française. And this was the lutenist Elizabeth Kenny’s ensemble, Theatre of the Ayre, compellingly dramatizing the French Baroque in vocal and instrumental prowess … delicately inflected accompaniments seemed spontaneous, improvisatory … Jonathan Sell’s distinctive and sprightly bass-baritone … the Ukrainian mezzo Anna Starushkevych, her voice pearly with lunar beauty, set the nocturnal scene … [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 Dec 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 Goddess’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, ‘Diversity is the very essence of music … Diversity alone is the source of all that is perfect in it, just as uniformity is the source of all insipidity and unpleasantness in it’ (Règles 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

… 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 – 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 Johnson’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 zone…The first half ended with a sensational, committed version of Robert Johnson’s (1911-38) classic Cross Road Blues with the lutes ‘n’ ukes delivering a physical, percussive support. This was beginning to feel like the concert had been programmed by the author Peter Ackroyd….
The concert closed with Johnson’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