Julian Bliss is a highly acclaimed Clarinetist who has firmly established himself on the international concert scene. He has appeared as soloist with important orchestras including the London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic. In 2007 he was invited by Conn Selmer to design a range of affordable clarinets bearing his name. The BLISS range of clarinets was recently launched world-wide and have received much praise.

(This interview was conducted in August 2010)

Share with us something about yourself.

Aside from playing the clarinet, I am a normal 21 year old! Hobbies include meeting up with friends, learning music, riding motorcycles off road and cars.

When did you start playing the clarinet? Was it love at first sight?

I started playing the clarinet when I was 4. I wasn’t sure what instrument I wanted to play, although I knew I didn’t want to play a string instrument.

The local music school let me try a number of instruments, and was then handed a plastic C clarinet. I was shown how to play it and that was it, I knew that was the instrument I wanted to play.

What is your daily practice routine like?

My practice routine is always changing. Often I have to practice quietly in hotel rooms! When I’m at home I practice for around 3 hours a day. This consists of various technical exercises, and then whatever pieces I am working on at the time

What is it like to be one of the youngest soloists to have performed with so many important orchestras around the world?

It is a great honour when I get to play with some of the worlds best orchestras. It’s always great fun, and always presents new challenges. Each conductor and orchestra has a different idea on certain pieces, so it’s always interesting to discuss various ideas. Hopefully in the end we end up with a convincing performance!

What is the Leblanc Bliss Clarinet about?

It was about 4 years ago, and Morrie Backun (one of the worlds greatest clarinet technicians) and I were discussing the instruments on offer at the time.

What we saw was a gap for an affordable clarinet that played properly. A lot of the affordable instruments come from China, and are not manufactured to the standards that professional musicians are accustomed to.

We did some research and found that a lot of young players give up because they don’t think they are good enough, but often it is the instrument that is at fault.

It was then that we decided we would design an instrument that changed that. Morrie had already worked on designing instruments with Leblanc, and they were very excited to manufacture and launch the Bliss clarinet.

There were a few requirements! It had to play to a very high standard, something which is not normally associated to an affordable instrument, secondly it had to look good, and thirdly it had to feel good in the hands, and also feel comfortable to play.

The first thing that people will notice is that it looks different to every other clarinet on the market, and as  we wanted to make something that stood out from the rest of the bunch, we decided on Black keys. This coupled with the ringless design makes the instrument look very stealthy and sleek.

This is always the first thing people comment on, and so far everyone loves the black look. As some people are a bit more conservative, every Bliss instrument is available with silver keys.

Would you then prefer the Bliss Clarinet over other high-end clarinets such as Tosca?

I also play a Leblanc legacy which is the top of the line Leblanc. The Bliss clarinet does compare to some higher priced instruments, which has surprised everyone.

Originally we wanted to design a student instrument,  but because we all had such high standards, what we ended up with was an instrument that was suitable for beginners, intermediate players and also pros. I switch between my Legacy and my Bliss clarinet depending on what I am playing.

Are there any literature that you would like to recommend to budding Clarinetists?

There are many good exercises. A good place to start is the Baermann books. When I was studying with Sabine Meyer, her husband Reiner Wehle, was writing 3 books of exercises. They are full of really useful things to practice. Those books are published under Schott.

Do you have a favourite work that you always love to perform?

I don’t really have a favourite piece to play. There are many great clarinet concertos out there. One of my favourites at the moment is the Copland clarinet concerto. Its a tricky piece, and even harder for the orchestra, but when you find some good players, its good fun, and it really is a crowd pleaser!

You’ve performed for the Queen at several occasions. How did it feel like?

It was a great honour to be asked to play for the Queen. The first time was for the Golden Jubilee.

It was a surreal experience for me, to be standing on stage in front of the royal family, and in the back garden of Buckingham Palace! Words cannot describe that day!

I was then invited to play for the Queens 80th birthday concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Again, to be playing for the Queen is probably one of the biggest highlights of my career.

You were also the subject of a three-part documentary entitled “Gifted”?

Channel 4 made a documentary about my travels to the USA to study. It was interesting having a film crew following me around every minute of every day for over a year!

I had met a clarinet teacher from Indiana University while he was here giving some master classes. We got on well, and a couple of months later I had an invitation to go and study out there.

It was a great experience. Everyone else on my course was 20+ but that didn’t matter to me. It was a great time to meet some amazing musicians and just have fun!

So tell us more about your new upcoming project, Julian Bliss & The King of Swing.

I’ve always had a love for Jazz. It was the end of last year, and I decided I wanted to set up a Jazz sextet, very similar to the sextet that Benny Goodman often played with.

From the start we had all decided that we wanted to recreate an authentic sound from the swing era, but add a modern twist.

This alone is tricky, not only because Benny was a Monster of a clarinet player, but because it can be hard to find musicians that play swing really well.

We also decided that we would talk about the life and career of Benny Goodman, to make the evening an experience rather than a formal concert!

I’m really looking forward to it, and every day I’m finding new things to include, new recordings, new stories about his life.

What would you say is the best thing about your career?

There are a few best things! Being able to travel around the world doing something that I enjoy doing, meeting other great musicians along the way, and getting to play in some amazing halls, for some important people are probably the best things about being a musician for me

So, do you have anything you want to say to all young aspiring clarinettists and musicians out there?

Everyone says it, but Practice is the most important thing I can say. It isn’t always about practicing for hours on end. Sometimes 20 minutes of practice on one day can be more productive than 3 hours on another!


Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.