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Jeremy Polmear talks to Makiko Mizunaga, harpsichordist with La Fontaine.

Makiko Mizunaga
JP: I first heard you give a superb performance at the 2001 Early Music Festival in London. Was that your first visit to the UK?

MM: We have been once before, at the York Early Music Festival in 1999.

JP: And did this second visit come from that?

MM: It actually came from a competition that we entered, held in Brugge. This was a success for us, we won the second prize and the audience prize. Then when the competition had finished Philip Pickett, who was one of the judges, came round to our hotel. He told us that he thought our performance truly stood out, told us about the London festival he was organising, and invited us there and then.

JP: How did you first get together?

MM: Three of us, Ezaki, Takemure and I, met in the Toho Music Conservatory in Tokyo. We were all taking classes in Early Music, which is taught to a high standard there. San'nomiya then joined us through his friendship with Ezaki because both of them were taking lessons from the same teacher for quite a while. The year we all got together was 1995.

JP: Many student groups get together, but not so many stay together. How did you succeed?

MM: We all felt we got along so well that we were ready to produce music together. Soon we decided to practice so that we could start to give concerts. We looked for a name for our group, and found the word 'Fontaine' in a French dictionary. We fell in love with the meaning of the word because it made us feel as if our music comes out like a fountain.

JP: How did you make 'La Fontaine' into a name that people wanted to hear?

MM: We have a tradition of giving our own annual concert in Tokyo. That is when we can enjoy ourselves because we don't have to worry about anybody's expectations. We talk in turn between the pieces. We have fun, and the audiences do, too. We are noticing that more people come every year.

JP: Yes, when I saw you in London you communicated an enthusiasm that was infectious...

MM: Last year, for a concert at the Casals Hall in Tokyo, our sponsor (a major newspaper) said we could only play Vivaldi concertos. So we created the stage like a play - used some sound effects and different lighting. We even wore masks depending on the characteristics of the music. That was fun too.
JP: And getting known to people outside of Tokyo?

MM: Word spread about our music, and winning prizes in competitions has definitely been influencing the range of our activities. For example, we are now invited from all over Japan although we only performed in Tokyo before. Another thing that really helped us was the recording of "Baroque Spirit".

JP: Yes, and it is with that CD that people in the West can hear you in, through Oboe Classics. But you first recorded it in 2001, in Japan. How did it come about?

MM: We were approached by Meister Music, which is a record company in Japan.

JP: One thing I notice about the CD is how well the programme is planned. Each piece brings a new characteristic. How did you choose the pieces you wanted to include? And how did you decide the order of the tracks?

MM: Thank you for the compliment! We first needed a repertoire of pieces. Some of them, Pla for example, are not published, so some research was required. Then we would play them through to see which felt the most satisfactory. As to the order, we alternated the major pieces with the minor ones and then worked out what we felt was the most satisfying order. We often play the Telemann Presto as an encore piece in our concerts, so it is the last piece on the CD.

JP: You have made another recording, I think. What is the music, and can we buy it in the West?

MM: Yes we have just released a new CD in Japan. It is called 'Insalata', and it has another trio sonata by Pla, with works by Pergolesi, Corrette and Platti. Then we have made a free arrangement of the first movement of Bach's F major Italian Concerto, and also written some new variations for the famous 'La Folia'. This is our first composition, and it gave us the chance to create new sounds for the group. You can see the details on the record company Tri-M's English catalogue, and you can order it by emailing them at

JP: And what about your future plans? Maybe another trip to Europe?

MM: We will be continuing to discover more of the wealth of Baroque music, and also creating our own compositions. And of course another tour of Europe would be a great pleasure for us. We love London very much, it is a really nice town, and the audiences in London have warm hearts, which gave us great pleasure.

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