Theatre of the Ayre

Music in the Round is the largest promoter of chamber music outside London. They take their unique, informal and informative style of performance to numerous venues around the country as well as presenting two concert series and an annual May Festival in Sheffield at the Crucible Studio.

Elizabeth Kenny, widely regarded as one of the finest lutenists on the world stage, has a longstanding love of English seventeenth-century song. Tonight she is joined by some of today’s most outstanding interpreters of this music to form Theatre of the Ayre, an innovative ensemble which reinvents seventeenth-century pieces in the spirit of improvisation and, most importantly, entertainment.

Let me begin by saying that the “Music in the Round” concept really is great for the music fan. It feels much more inclusive than the traditional “classical” set-up, immersing you into the performance. The musicians change places during the recital, allowing the audience to glimpse all the beautiful instruments played with supreme skill and awareness. As Robin Blaze quips, it’s the first time a classical musician has to make sure that the back of their jacket is ironed. It also allows for a much more relaxed atmosphere, with the artists regularly interacting with the audience; providing fascinating snippets of information about the composer and the music.

Whilst the lute may be the big draw this evening, there is a plethora of instruments on display. Pamela Thorby has a wide range of recorders; including one that is almost as big as her! Alison McMillivray brings a couple of beautiful viols which my friend looked at admiringly throughout the evening. Robin Blaze possesses a wonderful Countertenor voice, adding emotion and depth to the work.

To celebrate the 450th anniversary of John Dowland’s birth, the group performs some of the composer’s most personal and direct songs. Often hailed as the first great pop songwriter and the father of English art song, Dowland wrote counterpoint that was already old-fashioned at the end of the 16th Century, as well as being an avant garde pioneer of extravagant expression. Much of his music is contradictory in nature, and tonight’s concert highlights this.

Starting with ‘Clear or Cloudy?’, the forever changing nature of the English weather providing the backdrop to the emotional turbulence. The fast-moving political climate across Britain and Europe provides historical context to the musical compositions. ‘Lachrymae/flow my tears’ epitomises the trend across Europe for taking a work and embellishing them to make a new composition. In this case, Jacob van Eyck’s ‘Daphne’. It’s fascinating to witness how Dowland’s music is influenced by political machinations and his changing personal beliefs. Rachel Slott takes this theme one step further, taking moments from ‘The Lords’ Masque’ and adapting them to her own musical language. This is the highlight of the evening. The descriptions and songs in ‘Songs and dances from the Lords’ Masque’ is both exhilarating and amusing. Whilst the night is principally about celebrating beautiful chamber music, humour is never far from the performance (Tobias Hume’s playful ‘Tobacco’ for instance).

Theatre of the Ayre is a beautiful festival of period music and instrumentation. I heartily recommend future Music in the Round events to fans of classical music and those who have always been curious, but have thus far been deterred by the formality of classical recitals.

Full details of what’s coming up with Music in the Round can be found here:

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