Clara Engen


Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

Alma mater: Oberlin College and Conservatory

TŌN photos by Matt Dine


What is your earliest memory of classical music? I started violin at the age of 8 after I found my mom’s old violin from high school underneath her bed.

When did you realize you wanted to pursue music as a career? I injured my shoulder at the young age of 14, and was limited to playing the violin for only a half hour each day. I really missed playing while I was injured, so I worked hard to heal and regain strength in order to continue studying music—and I haven’t stopped since.

What do you think orchestra concerts should look like in the 21st Century? As an orchestra musician I often feel like I don’t know the individual members of my audience. I want to go to concerts where the audience gets a chance to make personal connections with each member of the orchestra. I want to be in an orchestra that is a composite of wonderful, individual & creative music-makers, each of whom has a say in the programming, the public presentation, and the musical expression of the concert they are bringing to their public!!

Which composer or genre of music do you feel you connect with the most? In classical music I connect with Dvořák the most, especially his chamber music; his writing has the capability of being contemplative and serious, but also extremely bubbly and joyful.

What has been your favorite experience as a musician? When I was 11, my youth orchestra did a mass performance of the slow theme from Jupiter by Gustav Holst. I remember standing in the center of the hall, totally overwhelmed by the sound of 400+ musicians filling up the space from the stage, the aisles, and the balconies—it was the loudest and definitely the most powerful musical experience I’d ever had.

What is some advice you would give to your younger self? Don’t limit yourself by thinking you’re not good enough to do something. Instead, reach for what you really want and you will eventually achieve your goals through hard work and sheer force of will! Also, stop slouching.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing? I’d definitely be a historian or librarian. One of my favorite things about performing music is digging up interesting pieces of history and personal connections to pieces. If I can’t do that in music, I’d be doing it in another field.

What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to and why? In 2017 I went backpacking in the south of Chile—Torres del Paine, Patagonia. It was the most incredible trip of my life. The nature was absolutely nothing like I’d ever experienced before, and I got to see glaciers for the first time ever! The stars in the southern hemisphere sky were also breathtakingly beautiful.

Piece of advice for a young classical musician: PRACTICE! But also, I heard this piece of advice in a masterclass: “Nothing good is done without passion, but nothing excellent is ever achieved through passion alone.”