Emma Johnson

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


Emma Johnson is one of the few clarinettists to have established a busy career as a solo performer which has taken her to major European, American and Asian venues as well as to Africa and Australasia.

She is one of the UK’s biggest selling classical artists, having sold well over half a million albums. Her recent recording with the BBC Concert Orchestra, English Fantasy, has been streamed 2 million times on Spotify and follows on from her classical chart-topping successes: Voyage and The Mozart Album on the Universal label. Johnson’s CD of sonatas by Brahms and Mendelssohn with John Lenehan was described as “definitive…triumphant…a landmark disc” in The Observer and her recording of the Finzi Concerto was nominated for a Gramophone Award whilst Pastoral was chosen as CD of the Year by BBC Music Magazine.

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 especially for her by Sir John Dankworth, Will Todd, Patrick Hawes and Michael Berkeley amongst others.

Emma has collaborated with artists such as Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Dame Cleo Laine and the Takacs Quartet and she directs her own group, Emma Johnson and Friends, whose recent live recording of the Schubert Octet was described as “a winner”by Music Web International. In 2020 she was honoured to receive the Cobbett Medal for distinguished services to chamber music from the Musicians’ Company guild in the City of London.

She enjoys creating distinctive concert programmes such as Tales From Vienna exploring the music of 19th century Vienna and her talk about humour in music, Comedy Classical . Her broadcasts about composer, Gerald Finzi and poet, John Milton on BBC Radio 4 were both chosen as Pick of the Week.

An exciting collaboration with composer Jonathan Dove has seen Emma working with UK school children in workshops and performances to recreate the story of The Pied Piper. She has also given masterclasses throughout the world and was a professor at the Royal College of Music, London.

Enthusiastic audience response to her jazz playing has inspired Emma to develop Clarinet Goes to Town, an entertaining programme of music tracing the origins of traditional jazz. She arranges music of many styles for the clarinet; books of her compositions and arrangements have been published by Music Sales and Faber Music. Her piece Georgie is currently on the Associated Board syllabus and her Songs of Celebration for clarinet and choir has been performed in London, Dublin, Tokyo and Gloucester Cathedral.

Emma Johnson’s TV appearances range from a recital for Sky Arts TV to gala concerts including a recent televised Prom celebrating the BBC Young Musicians programme. She featured in the Channel 4 documentary about the late Sir John Dankworth and played the popular hit theme tune for The Victorian Kitchen Garden on BBC TV (winning a Novello Award). Her 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 interviewed on programmes such as Woman’s Hour and World at One on BBC Radio 4.

Emma grew up in London and her career was launched when at the age of 17 she won BBC Young Musician of the Yearfollowed by the Young Concert Artists Auditions in New York. However, she decided to study Music and English at Cambridge University before embarking fulltime on a musical path. In 2019 she ran a half marathon to raise funds for Unicef and she is a patron of ClicSargent, and Ronald Mcdonald House Charities. Emma was also the first woman to be made an Honorary Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge and to have her portrait painted for the college. She 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: @ClarinetEmmJ



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