Who or what inspired you to take up the clarinet and pursue a career in music?
My primary school offered me the chance to learn the clarinet when I was nine and I loved it from the word go.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Living in the UK has been important. There are so many countries in the world where you would not be able to pursue music because of economic circumstances or because of being female.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Sometimes it has been a challenge to persuade promoters that the clarinet is an exciting solo instrument because they tend only to think of having piano or violin soloists.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I am very glad I managed to release “English Fantasy”, a recording of great pieces written for me by Will Todd, Patrick Hawes, Paul Reade and John Dankworth.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I love a range of styles from Mozart to English, French, American and jazz
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
It is partly down to what promoters ask for and partly new repertoire that fascinates me. I like to keep exploring.
During lockdown I got more serious about composing and I’ve had a couple of pieces for clarinet published, including 3 Perspectives which I’ll be playing with the pianist Gregory Drott at Hertfordshire Festival of Music in June.
I’m also looking forward to giving the premiere of my clarinet concerto soon and I’ve released a CD containing my Songs of Celebration for clarinet and choir.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I don’t have a favourite venue but I particularly like the more generous acoustics you find in churches and cathedrals. I love playing in the Three Choirs Festival for example.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I’m inspired by visual arts and enjoyed the recent Cezanne exhibition in London. There is an incredible wealth of detail when you look closely at Cezanne’s paintings which makes them much richer and more vibrant when you stand back. I try to emulate that in music by colouring and characterising my sound to enrich the performance.
I also was inspired by a Frida Kahlo exhibition and the strength of character that sings through her work.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Glenn Gould in Bach and Dietrich Fischer–Dieskau in Schubert. And Ella Fitzgerald.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
It was inspiring to play the Mozart Concerto with Yehudi Menuhin conducting in London many years ago. He really understood the spiritual dimension of music.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?
Programming music that speaks to the wider cultural audience will help. I would love to think people could look forward to hearing new Classical pieces in the way that they would have looked forward to a new work by, for example, Shostakovich. For many years the powers that be only promoted work by composers who didn’t attempt to engage a wide audience and that has had a detrimental effect. I’m not advocating dumbing down, just giving air time to composers who are aware of the community in which they live and what it needs from music.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
They need to be versatile and adept at many styles. They also need to be dedicated to music- it’s not a 9am-5pm job!
Emma Johnson is Principal Artist at this year’s Hertfordshire Festival of Music. In addition to recitals and an In Conversation event, Emma will be giving a masterclass at Queenswood School, Hatfield, on Thursday 15th June. Full details here
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 over half a million albums worldwide. Her recent recording of sonatas by Brahms and Mendelssohn with John Lenehan was described as “definitive…triumphant…a landmark disc” in The Observer and follows on from her classical chart-topping successes: Voyage and The Mozart Album on the Universal label. Her much admired recording of the Finzi Concerto was nominated for a Gramophone Award and Pastoral was chosen as CD of the Year by BBC Music Magazine.
Read more about Emma Johnson here