ELIZABETH KENNY | Aldeburgh Festival

Summer Music Festivals allow performers, composers and audiences to do things which aren’t allowed in the polite company of the urban(e) concert hall. A sunny Suffolk Saturday in the beautiful sanctuary of Orford church permitted over 200 consenting adults to indulge in the gentle strumming of the solo theorbo for two hours.

Theorbos aren’t spotted all that often: imagine a lute (big mandolin?) with a neck which can run to four or five feet and with two sets of playable strings. Invented in the late C16, their day was a bit short lived but they do offer interesting soundscapes for the ingenious composer.

Nico Muhly’s new Berceuse in the hands of Elizabeth Kenny is a good example of why Muhly is in real demand as a composer and arranger right across the board of music making. Interest in the sound of an unusual instrument with a limited range of frequencies and dynamics can pall after an hour or so, but the marked distinction in Muhly’s hands seems to be to be able to work out just which frequency ranges and combinations have the resonant qualities to engage the ear with lengthy reverberation or sharp percussion.

You may not be a theorbo enthusiast and you may not be able to track down a live performance by Kenny – who commissioned the piece – but its existence is continuing proof of Muhly’s attentiveness to the range of acoustic possibilities which continue to make music delightfully uncertain, ambiguous and intriguing.

Aldeburgh Festival runs Friday 7 – Sunday 23 June 2019 — explore the rest of the programme here. Ars longa: Old and new music for theorbo (featuring the Muhly commission) is out now on Linn Records.

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