Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
We met whilst studying recorder in London. Between us we are graduates of the Royal College of Music, Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The early music and recorder revival was in full swing at that time, so inspiration was all around us with the great pioneers including of course Frans Brüggen and Walter Van Hauwe in the Netherlands, David Munrow in England as well as the Danish virtuoso Michala Petri, and of course the fantastic Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet. We were also inspired and supported by the UK Early Music Network, which did wonderful work encouraging young ensembles with competitions and tours of the UK and making connections between artists and promoters.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
To perform Renaissance consort repertoire, the ideal is to play on a matched consort of instruments, which is a big financial commitment! We were lucky enough to find a second-hand consort to start us off, but eventually managed to get funding from the fantastic Humphrey Richardson Taylor Trust to commission a set of 15 instruments from the workshop of the world-renowned recorder maker Adrian Brown. Dating from 2006, these recorders enable us to explore fifteenth- and sixteenth-century music using the authentic instrument sizes used at the time.
As an all-female group, there have been significant challenges with several of the members managing to juggle growing families and ensemble commitments. We now have 7 Fontanella babies between us! The wonderful thing is that the group has managed to stay active and productive throughout that time and the bond of friendship between us all remains very strong.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
We have made three CD recordings, the most recent of which, The Nightingale’s Response features lots of our own material and arrangements, so it feels very true to ourselves as musicians.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
We absolutely adore the blended sound of our renaissance instruments which sound like a magnificent organ when played together, especially in church-like acoustics. We also enjoy playing new arrangements and introducing audiences to contemporary music, and finding ways to connect all these elements for a concert programme.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
There is always plenty to chat about and much hilarity/cake consumption when meeting and rehearsing, which helps the group feel bonded on stage. Also, we do all work and perform with many other groups outside Fontanella, which always brings fresh ideas and perspective to our work.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
We have found that themes evolve over time; sometimes a programme idea emerges from a promoter and becomes a bigger project. ‘The Delightful Companion’ programme we are playing in Hertford [in June], with its theme based around the year 1670, has allowed us to explore a period in musical history which is strangely parallel to our own times: in 1670 the country was recovering from the plague and fire of London as well as the austerity of Cromwell’s rule, so it represents a period when musicians were having to re-invent their identity and provide culture and entertainment wherever they could. We have plans to tour this programme around the UK later this year.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
We have been lucky to have played in some amazing historic venues, small and large; we enjoy being inspired by the individual venue. Some standout favourites are the wonderfully remote Skálholt cathedral in Iceland; the atmospheric ruins of Binham Priory in Norfolk; and the enthusiastic buzz created at the London International Festival of Early Music, in Greenwich.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
We always enjoy linking educational work with our concerts, to inspire the young and let them know that the recorder is a valid instrument among many others. And to show them how exciting live performance can be, both to watch and to take part in.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
In 2010 we were doing some concerts in Finland when the Icelandic volcano erupted, causing our flight home to be cancelled. We had an epic and very memorable non-stop journey home, which involved multiple trains and ferries through 11 countries. We actually had too many instruments and pieces of baggage to manage between us, so we relied heavily on the goodwill of other passengers to help us on and off trains. We met some incredible people along the way! One of our members was also quite heavily pregnant at the time which made for an even more interesting adventure and one we will never forget!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Feeling like your audience is totally ‘with you’ in a concert
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
We are all committed and passionate teachers and often discuss musical education and ideas. We all believe it’s important with young artists to help them find and develop their own musical voice, and to avoid setting any single example. Versatility as a musician is also incredibly important.
What is your most treasured possession?
All our instruments
What is your present state of mind?
Optimistic and excited 😊
Fontanella will perform their Delightful Companion programme, focussed around the year 1670, at this year’s Hertfordshire Festival of Music. The concert is a celebration of the historic Friends Meeting House in Hertford, which has been in continuous use for some 350 years. More information/tickets
Fontanella is a UK-based recorder consort specialising in historical performance, new music and education projects