John Mark Ainsley


John Mark Ainsley has appeared with the world’s greatest orchestras and conductors, including the London, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco Symphony orchestras and the London, Berlin, Vienna and New York Philharmonic orchestras, with Davis, Haitink, Mackerras, Charles Dutoit, Masur, Norrington, Rattle and Abbado.

His discography covers the baroque and classical repertoire, the German Lied and English song and the American musical. His Britten recordings include the three tenor cycles Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, Les illuminations and Nocturne.

2010 saw his first Captain Vere in the UK in Michael Grandage’s production of Billy Budd for the Glyndebourne Festival. He sang Skuratov in Janacek’s From the House of the Dead directed by Chereau and conducted by Boulez at the Amsterdam, Vienna and Aix-en-Provence Festivals and subsequently in his house debut at La Scala, Milan/ Salonen.   He was awarded the Munich Festival Prize for his performance as Orfeo. He created the role of Der Daemon in the world premiere of Hans Werner Henze's L'Upupa for the Salzburg Festival and also sang the world premiere of Henze's Phaedra in Berlin and Brussels.

John Mark won the 2007 Royal Philharmonic Society Singer Award and is a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music.

In 2016 John Mark was diagnosed with Leukaemia. Fortunately this was an early diagnosis and with ongoing treatment the prognosis for his general health is very good. However, he has decided that it is time to retire from public performance.  It is still very much his intention to remain involved with singing and performing through teaching, adjudication and master classes.

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The Creation

Sir Simon Rattle; OAE

There was an excellent trio of solo singers...tenor John Mark Ainsley was understated but elegant. Erica Jeal, The Guardian, 7th May 2014



Parnassus, Naïve

...John Mark Ainsley’s commanding Bajazet is the great performance here... Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times, 13th April 2014
John Mark Ainsley's smooth and capable tenor... Opera Now, May 2014
...John Mark Ainsley is anguished as the volatile monarch. Nicholas Kenyon, The Observer, 15th June 2014
...John Mark Ainsley, superb as Bajazet... Claudia Prtichard, The Independent, 13th April 2014
John Mark Ainsley's noble, harrowing Bajazet has rarely been bettered. Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 8th May 2014
...what stands out is its leading tenor role, unusual for an opera seria...the stylishness of John Mark Ainsley... Financial Times, 24th May 2014
Tenor, John Mark Ainsley suffering nobly as he’s tormented towards suicide. Bajazet is the number one role here, expanded by Handel for a visiting star tenor, and Ainsley is magnificent, charting the ruler’s mood swings as he heads towards an unusual on-stage death. Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3 In Tune, 24th May 2014
Ainsley is an experienced Handelian, certainly, but he still sounds vigorous and up for a fight in Bajazat's opening aria, 'Forte, e lieto' and he is commanding throughout as he builds up to his climactic suicide, in which he is as moving as any other exponent of the role I have heard. His voice, still fresh-sounding, is more mellifluous than either Young's or Robson's... and he delivers the text...with incisiveness and forcefulness that hits you in the solar plexus when he rounds on his captor, his daughter and her lover in his incandescent rage. This is the finest thing the British tenor has done on disc and one can only hope it leads to stage performances in the very near future... Hugh Canning, International Record Review,July/August 2014
John Mark Ainsley makes a heroic Bajazet, deeply moving in the broken phrases of his death scene... Richard Lawrance, Gramophone, August 2014



English National Opera

...superb musical quality. Rebecca Evans and Iestyn Davies are just about perfection as Rodelinda and Bertarido, and there’s a performance of terrific personality and authority by John Mark Ainsley as the loopy Grimoaldo. Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 1st March 2014
...John Mark Ainsley sings that role with the refined grace we expect of him... Michael Church, The Independent, 1st March 2014
Grimoaldo, as he evolves in wisdom, is sung with huge intelligence and immaculate style by John Mark Ainsley. Hilary Finch, The Times, 3rd March 2014
...John-Mark Ainsley created a brilliantly seedy Grimoaldo... Helen Wallace, BBC Music Magazine, 4th March 2014
...his singing was eloquent and sure, and his portrayal of Grimoaldo as an oily thug was consummately done. Erica Jeal, Opera, May 2014
John Mark Ainsley gave his most intriguing impersonation ever as the usurper Grimoaldo...this was a wonderfully funny, desperately maniacal characterisation, deploying all the colour and brilliance of which this singer is capable, together with the best acting I have ever seen from him. Tom Sutcliffe, Opera Now, May 2014

The complete songs of Poulenc: Vol.4


To the tenor John Mark Ainsley falls the five Eluard settings, which he interprets tellingly with a mix of mesmerising restraint and fierce projection in the opening song, 'Peut-il se reposer celui qui dort', and throughout finds the nub of the diverse sentiments that the set conveys. Geoffrey Norris, Gramophone, February 2014



Wigmore Hall, La nuova musica

...John Mark Ainsley’s soaringly beautiful tenor... Michael Church, The Independent, 23rd January 2014
...there are some wonderful arias, all of them terrifically done...John Mark Ainsley, meanwhile, was the bewildered Thoas... Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 23rd January 2014


War Requiem

McCreesh; Gabrieli Consort&Players; Winged Lion

...sets new standards for this strangely moving choral work. The Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir projects the Latin liturgical texts with radiant luminosity, matched by the trebles of the Choir of New College Oxford, while the three soloists – Susan Gritton, John Mark Ainsley and Christopher Maltman – combine poise and conviction... Here is a recording worthy of the Britten centenary. Financial Times, 31st August 2013
…tenor John Mark Ainsley – who really hits the spot for me... It’s a very well-paced performance, and Susan Gritton, John Mark Ainsley and Christopher Maltman are excellent soloists, totally engaged with Britten’s combination of the Latin Mass for the Dead and Wilfred Owen’s war poetry. It’s an outstanding recording for the Winged Lion Label from Signum Classics.
CD Review, BBC Radio Three, 24th August 2013
Britten: War Requiem (Winged Lion/Signum)
Gabrieli Consort & Players; Wroclaw Phil. Choir, New College trebles, John Mark Ainsley, Christopher Maltman, Susan Gritton/ Paul McCreesh BBC Music Magazine Award 2014
...John Mark Ainsley and Christopher Maltman are able to sing with conversational intimacy, while letting through plenty of instrumental detail … Ainsley is almost unbearably tender in ‘Move him into the sun'... Richard Fairman, The Gramophone, October 2013



Barbican Centre, London

...this prince of English tenors…singing with robust vocal health a role in which he has long been peerless.
When I interviewed him in 2008, Ainsley told me he thought he had done everything he could with Monteverdi’s Orfeo and wouldn’t be undertaking it again. How delighted I am that he has recanted, because this performance by the Academy of Ancient Music showed that he has enriched and deepened his interpretation further, both in his rendering of the music’s rhythmic subtleties and his perception of the character’s tragic journey.
Without resorting to any extraneous histrionics or exaggerated portamento, he makes the lines almost shockingly modern and vivid: this Orfeo is not a figure sculpted from classical marble, but a desperate everyman, anxious, remorseful and bereft, for whom love is ultimately more important than art. I found his breakdown in the final scenes painfully moving.
Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 29 September 2013
Ainsley has the role under his skin, and delivered a performance of angry pathos. His dark tenor has an almost baritone-like depth and heft, a fine foil...In Ainsley's great centre piece aria "Possente spirito£ his ornate melismas were seductively controlled; in the next he gave way to broken sprechstimme. The role has never felt so raw and contemporary. Helen Wallace, Financial Times, 1st October 2013
And with John Mark Ainsley bringing consummate artistry and exceptional beauty of tone to the title role, this "Orfeo" rent the heart. Michael Church, The Independent, 30th September 2013


The Play of Krishna, Love Duet

Manchester International Festival

Tenor John Mark Ainsley was magisterial... Paul Vallely, The Independent, 10th July 2013


Serenade for tenor, horn and strings

Scottish Chamber Orchestra

The impressive centrepiece was Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, with a fine pair of soloists in tenor John Mark Ainsley and the SCO's own principal horn Alec Frank-Gemmill, a player of rare composure and subtlety. Together they brought agile muscularity to the songs: the transition from Frank-Gemmill's bold and spacious Prologue to Ainsley's breezy Pastoral was a thrill, the Elegy was nicely laced with irony, and the spectral Dirge was hushed and macabre in Ainsley's plangent high register. Kate Molleson, The Guardian, 29th April 2013
Having been left on a high by Suckling’s questing final peroration, we were kept there by a performance of Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings that had something quite magical about it...the artlessly nuanced singing of John Mark Ainsley, sounding as fresh as he has done for years. Andrew Clark, Financial Times, 29th April 2013

Chamber concert

Queen's Hall, Edinburgh was to the enormous credit of the trio of musicians - the SCO's principal horn, Alec Frank-Gemmill, pianist Tom Poster and respected tenor John Mark Ainsley - that their performances were so magnificently life-affirming, glowing with vivid colours and alive with crackling energy... Poster was the only performer onstage throughout, and his two solo Schubert impromptus sang with a ringing clarity. Ainsley refused to bow to Auf dem Strom's death-obsessed mood, giving instead a reading that was airy and somewhat wide-eyed - and all the more poignant for that. But it was his scorching, unforgiving performance of Britten's Still Falls the Rain, breathtakingly intense, that made the concert's high point - although he dismissed the audience on a lighter note with a sparkling quintet of Britten's witty folksong settings. David Kettle, The Scotsman, 23rd April 2013

William Lyne Birthday Concert

Wigmore Hall

And Ainsley’s airy and supple tenor was movingly caught in Vaughan Williams’s Orpheus with his Lute...
Neil Fisher, The Times, 30th November 2012


War Requiem

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra other tenor of today is better able to locate the plangent centre of Britten’s vocal lines. Although grounded in the English tradition, there is a keening Italianate edge to Ainsley’s tone that rent the heart during ‘Move him into the sun’ and ‘One ever hangs where shelled roads part’.
Mark Valencia, Classical Source, November 2012


From the House of the Dead

Deutsche Staatsoper, Berlin

The “featuring” roles — John Mark Ainsley’s Skuratov... — could hardly be better done today.
Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times, 9th October 2011


Billy Budd

Glyndebourne Festival Opera, DVD

John Mark Ainsley's plangent, dark-toned tenor and intense diction show us a more neurotic Vere than usual, ridden with doubts and anxieties behind the urbane front he presents to his officers, in his old age reliving the traumatic execution.
Michael Scott Rohan, BBC Music Magazine, July 2011


Spring Symphony

Bridgewater Hall, Hallé Orchestra

John Mark Ainsley, Rebecca Evans and Sarah Connolly twittered and cooed tonight with impressively straight faces. But the highlight was Connolly's plangent rendering of WH Auden's Out On the Lawn I Lie in Bed, a stark indication that Britten's hymn to spring is equally a thanksgiving for Europe's deliverance from war. Mark Elder conducted with absolute conviction; the Hallé Children's Choir sang (and, when called for, whistled) with gusto; even the man on the cow horn lowed magnificently.
Alfred Hickling, The Guardian, 15 May 2011



Mendelssohn: Elias

Petteri Salomaa - Bass 
Soile Isokoski - Soprano 
Monica Groop - Contralto 
John Mark Ainsley - Tenor 
La Chapelle Royale Collegium Vocale Gent 
Orchestre des Champs-Élysées 
Philippe Herreweghe - Conductor
Harmonia Mundi