Elizabeth Kenny

Elizabeth Kenny

Lute • Theorbo


In the career of English lutenist and theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny, known as Liz, virtuoso performance, teaching, and research coexist with unusual comfort and mutual benefit. Kenny's first instrument was the classical guitar; she took it up as a child, she told The Night Shift, because "I got in trouble in primary school, messing about because I was bored, so my parents bought me a guitar to keep me occupied." She did not major in music as a university student, but, on finishing her studies, she felt compelled to see what she could do. Kenny studied the guitar with Robert Lewin and then switched to lute, working with Nigel North, a noted authority on continuo practice as well as a fine lutenist.

That experience served Kenny well when the recession of the early 1990s crimped British arts scenes; she moved to Paris and won a place in the pioneering Baroque ensemble Les Arts Florissants, led by American-French director William Christie. The Baroque, especially in its irregular and imperfectly understood English varieties, has remained her main focus, although she has enthusiastically played Renaissance music as well. Kenny remained with Les Arts Florissants from 1992 to 2007 and then joined the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, performing with that group from 2007 to 2015. She made numerous recordings with both groups and has continued to collaborate with them on new projects. Kenny has also accompanied Ian Bostridge and other singers on recordings.

Her own solo career has been marked by recordings of little-known repertory and might be placed in the specialist category if they did not astound with sheer virtuosity. She has recorded with her own group, Theatre of the Ayre, mostly for the Linn label. The group's recording of John Blow's Venus and Adonis was issued by the Wigmore Hall Live label. In 2017 Kenny released The Masque of Moments, an exploration of the music of the 17th century English masque, based on a touring show Kenny had developed for Theatre of the Ayre some years earlier. A professor at the University of Southampton, Kenny has also taught at the Royal Academy of Music and at the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin. Her teaching has been marked by unusual enterprises such as the assembly of 360 child ukulele players with whom she investigated the connections between early music and the blues.