Elizabeth Kenny

Director of Performance and Performance Studies

BA (Cantab.), FRAM


One of Europe’s leading lute players, Elizabeth Kenny has twenty five years of experience performing with period instrument chamber ensembles across Europe and the USA (including principal theorbo with Les Arts Florissants and with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, 1997-2010). She is well known as a lute and theorbo soloist and as a song accompanist. She has recorded solo music from the ML Lute Book, and a number of CDs exploring vocal repertoire by Dowland, Lawes and Purcell.

Her own ensemble Theatre of the Ayre has a reputation for innovative programming and for its fresh, improvisatory approach to musical performance. Theatre of the Ayre’s recording of Venus and Adonis (John Blow, c.1683) appears on the Wigmore Hall Live label. The Masque of Moments was released by Linn Records in February 2017. Theatre of the Ayre’s improbably successful collaboration with members of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Lutes&Ukes (“a genre-crashing supergroup”), has toured in the UK and Germany, as well as working with 600 ukulele-wielding children across schools in London and York.

Elizabeth Kenny was nominated for a Royal Philharmonic Society Award in 2011 (best instrumentalist category) and featured on two separate Grammy and Gramophone award-winning CDs in 2017. She has given première performances of works for lute and theorbo by Sir James MacMillan, Benjamin Oliver, Heiner Goebbels and Rachel Stott.

An Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellowship in Creative and Performing Arts (2005-8) took Elizabeth Kenny to the University of Southampton where she researched improvisation practices in seventeenth-century English Song. She subsequently became Head of Early Music and Professor of Musical Performance at Southampton, leaving in July 2018. She has an ongoing research interest in theatre music of the seventeenth century and devises programmes with recital partners such as Ian Bostridge, Robin Blaze and Nicholas Mulroy, as well as planning larger scale projects for Theatre of the Ayre.

Elizabeth has been professor of lute at the Royal Academy of Music since 1999. She has given masterclasses at the Royal College of Music, Royal Irish Academy of Music, Royal Northern College of Music, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, University of Cambridge, University of Hull, University of Newcastle, University of Oxford, University of York, the Juilliard School of Music, Akademie für Alte Musik (Bremen), Koninklijk Conservatorium (den Haag) and the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis.

At Oxford Elizabeth oversees the performance activities of undergraduate students as part of their degree, with coaching, classes and chamber music sessions designed to embed performance alongside  the academic curriculum.  She also works with Masters students to deepen and develop the connection between their research and performance interests.

Selected recordings:—

The Masque of Moments. Theatre of the Ayre. Linn Records CD CKD542.

John Blow: Venus and Adonis. With Sophie Daneman, Roderick Williams, Elin Manahan Thomas and Theatre of the Ayre. Directed by Elizabeth Kenny. Wigmore Hall Live 0043.

Flying Horse: Music from the ML LuteBook. Hyperion CDA67776.

James MacMillan: Since It Was the Day of Preparation. With the Hebrides Ensemble, Brindley Sherratt, Synergy Vocals. Delphian  DCD34168.

John Dowland: Lachrimae or Seven Tears. With Phantasm.  Linn CKD527. Winner of Gramophone Early Music Award 2017 and Diapason d’Or de l’Année “Early Music”.

Shakespeare Songs. With Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano. Warner Classics 9029 59447-3. Grammy Award (joint) Best Solo Vocal Recital 2017.

Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas. With Sarah Connolly, Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Co-directed by Steven Devine and Elizabeth Kenny. Chandos Chaconne CHAN0757.

Henry Purcell: The Food of Love. With Paul Agnew (tenor), Anne Marie Lasla (bass viol), Blandine Rannou (harpsichord). Naive Ambroisie AM185.

Henry Purcell: Victorious Love. With Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Laurence Cummings (harpsichord). BIS-SACD-1536.

Henry Purcell: Come all ye Songsters. With Carolyn Sampson, Laurence Cummings, Jonathan Manson (bass viol). Wigmore Hall Live 0083.

Move Now with Measured Sound: Songs by Henry and William Lawes. With Robin Blaze. Hyperion CDA675890.

English Lute Songs. With Robin Blaze. Hyperion CDA67126.

Book chapters and journal articles:—

Kenny, E. “The Uses of Lute Song: Texts, Contexts and Pretexts for ‘Historically Informed’ Performance”.  Early Music, 36:2 (2008), 285-99.

Kenny, E. “Revealing Their Hand: Lute Tablatures in Early Seventeenth Century England”. Renaissance Studies, 26:1 (2011), 112-137.

Kenny, E. Editorial, opening the Dowland-themed anniversary issue of Early Music, 41:2 (2013). Guest editor Elizabeth Kenny.

Kenny, E. “Adapting an Adaptation: A Restoration Tempest”. In B. Barclay and D. Lindley (eds), Shakespeare, Music and Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 114-130.

Kenny, E. “Words and Music in Performance: Evidence from John Hilton’s Songbook”. In D. da Sousa Correa (ed.), The Edinburgh Companion to Literature and Music (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming).

Related website: www.elizabethkenny.co.uk

Contact: elizabeth.kenny@music.ox.ac.uk