Emma Johnson

...one of the most prolific and well-known clarinet soloists of the past quarter century (The Clarinet, America)


Emma Johnson MBE is one of the few clarinettists to have established a career as a solo performer. Emma grew up in London and her career was launched when, at the age of 17, she won BBC Young Musician of the Year followed by the Young Concert Artists Auditions in New York. Before embarking on a musical path she studied Music and English at Cambridge University and since then she has given concerts all over the world. 

Emma Johnson has made 30 recordings to date; tracks from her recent album, English Fantasy, have been streamed over 3 million times on Spotify. Voyage and The Mozart Album on the Universal label were also classical chart-topping successes and Johnson’s CD of Brahms Sonatas with John Lenehan was described as “definitive” in the Observer, whilst her recording of Stanford and Finzi was nominated for a Gramophone Award. 

Emma Johnson is also a composer; books of her arrangements and compositions have been published by Chesters and Fabers. Songs of Celebration, Johnson’s composition for clarinet and choir, has recently been performed in Dublin, London and Tokyo and her new clarinet concerto, Tree of Life, will be premiered in 2022. A series of new solo clarinet pieces has also been published by Queen’s Temple Publishing. 

In 2020 Emma Johnson was awarded the Cobbett medal for distinguished services to chamber music from the Musicians’ Company guild in the City of London. She loves to collaborate with other musicians and also directs her own ensemble, Emma Johnson and Friends, whose recent live recording of the Schubert Octet was critically acclaimed. 

Working with artists as diverse as Sir Yehudi Menuhin and Dame Cleo Laine, Emma is known for eclectic programming; amongst the concerts she offers are Tales of Vienna, a celebration of Viennese music in its heyday and Clarinet Goes to Town, which raises the roof with jazz clarinet classics. 

Emma Johnson’s TV appearances have ranged from a recital for Sky Arts TV to chat shows and gala concerts, including a televised BBC Prom concert. Emma featured in the Channel 4 documentary about the jazz musician, Sir John Dankworth and she played the popular theme for The Victorian Kitchen Garden on BBC TV (winning an Ivor Novello Award). Videos of her performances and masterclasses can be viewed on her YouTube channel. Emma’s radio work includes Artist of the Week for both BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM as well as for radio stations around the world and she has been a featured guest on BBC’s Woman’s Hour and World at One. Her radio broadcasts about composer Gerald Finzi and poet John Milton on BBC Radio 4 were both chosen as Pick of the Week and she is often invited to give talks including, most recently, Comedy Classical, an exploration of humour in music for The Arts Society. 

Emma has given masterclasses throughout the world and was a professor at the Royal College of Music, London. She also devised a project with composer Jonathan Dove involving UK school children recreating the story of the Pied Piper. Emma has appeared as soloist with many of the world’s leading orchestras in repertoire which includes all the major clarinet works as well as pieces written for her by Sir John Dankworth, Will Todd, Matthew Taylor, Patrick Hawes and Sir Michael Berkeley. 

Emma was also the first woman to be made an Honorary Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge and in 2017 the college commissioned a portrait of her. 

She enjoys running and has completed 2 half marathons to raise funds for Unicef. She is a patron of ClicSargent, (www.clicsargent.org.uk), and of Ronald Mcdonald House Charities (http://www.rmhc.org). 

Emma was honoured by the Queen with an M.B.E. in 1996. 

Emma plays an instrument made by the English clarinet maker, Peter Eaton. 

For more details please visit www.emmajohnson.co.uk Follow Emma on Twitter: @ClarinetEmmaJ 



Mozart and Brahms “The concert opened with Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet, composed towards the end of the composer’s life. The Carducci Quartet gave a rich, velvety sound which was coupled with Emma Johnson’s gorgeous tone on the clarinet. She really is an incredible player. She raced through the range of the instrument with graceful and supple playing, and the balance between strings and wind was spot on. Emma Johnson once again exhibited faultless playing in the Mozart Clarinet Quintet, producing a sublime sound in the second, larghetto movement.”

– theartsdesk.com Mozart Clarinet Quintet, Warwick Arts Centre March 2019

Mozart Concerto Bridgewater Hall Manchester March 2017 “The real delight of the night was Emma Johnson’s playing of the solo in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, which was individual and inimitable…Emma Johnson knows this piece as well as anyone on Earth, probably, and she had every phrase thought out and built to make a narrative (at times a drama – and even a comedy). Her tone was gentle but never obscure, self-effacing but unmistakably graceful, and the finale became like an evening of chamber music as she nodded her thoughts towards the concert master and the orchestra responded.”

– Robert Beale, Manchester Evening News

Birmingham Town Hall March 2016 “It looks so simple on paper: skeins of notes with minimal performing instructions. So Mozart’s autumnal Clarinet Concerto can become just a vehicle for technical expertise, though the listener can always sense there is music aching to leap off the page. And it certainly did so in Emma Johnson’s reading with David Curtis’ Orchestra of the Swan in a packed and appreciative Town Hall the other afternoon. Here was an account full of insight and nuance, discreetly decorated at transitional points, and refreshing our ears to this well-loved score –have we ever noticed before that the soloist holds on to the note at the end of the ineffable slow movement for far longer than the orchestra? Johnson used a conventional ‘A’ clarinet, eschewing the extra range the rediscovered basset clarinet offers. And this restored to us the wonderful chewy sounds in the chalumeau register that every listener has loved for decades.”

– Robert Morley, Birmingham Post

James Francis Brown Concerto London Premiere 2016 “..this work expresses various states of mind born from life’s experiences; the music is motivated by nostalgia and also ambition. The wonderful soloist was Emma Johnson, whose miraculously soft tone was breathtaking. Her virtuosity was called upon in the soliloquies but Brown never departs into showmanship; rather the strings have melodic patterns set by the clarinettist’s desires.”

– Classical Source, December 2016

Mozart Concerto Stratford upon Avon with Orchestra of the Swan 2016 “The audience was made aware that it was in the presence of greatness when Emma Johnson performed the concerto with spellbinding brilliance . . . a soloist in utter command of a much-cherished work which she interpreted with wonderful precision and richness of tone.”

– Stratford Herald, February 2016

Mozart Concerto Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 2015 “Cambridge alumnus, Emma Johnson, joined the European Union Chamber Orchetra to present a stunning concert in the Corn Exchange last night. Our Girl ‘Emma’ (MBE) did not disappoint us:- she was magnificent and every note she played in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto was beautifully nurtured. As a one-time clarinet player, I know only too well the vicissitudes of playing the instrument, yet, in Emma’s hands, the wide range of expression she evoked, her seemingly effortless virtuosic skill, and her undoubted musicality produced an unprecedented effect.”

– R. Westwell, Cambridge Evening News

Will Todd Concerto European premiere of in Finland “The concert was a glorious demonstration of what the clarinet is capable of in the right hands. The soloist, Emma Johnson, has realised what lies at the heart of music making when it is at its best: she does not just perform, but uses the music to communicate something wonderful. While she plays she moves in the way clarinettists often do, although not in any pretentious fashion- everything is natural and tells a story. Obviously, all this is helped by what is a first-rate technique.”

– Savon Sanomat (Finland)

ozart Concerto Phoenix Symphony “The strongest and most profiled music making of the evening came in the Mozart with English clarinettist, Emma Johnson as soloist. Playing a custom made English instrument of burnished sonic beauty, Johnson performed the entirety of the priceless score as if singing it. Composed at the end of Mozart’s life, when opera dominated his musical thinking, the Clarinet Concerto is perfectly capable of being read as a quasi-vocal essay, a lengthy and infinitely noble song without words. But it only works if the soloist is, as Johnson was, sensitive to the many nuances of phrasing. Johnson treated the three registers of her instrument – the dark low octave, the conversational middle range and the brilliant top or flute register – almost as different characters engaged in some urgent dialogue.”

– The Arizona Republic