Clarinettist and clarinet designer Julian Bliss excels as a concerto soloist, chamber musician, jazz artist, masterclass leader and tireless musical explorer. As a soloist, he has appeared with a wide range of international orchestras, including the Auckland Philharmonia, BBC Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, London Philharmonic and more. As a chamber musician, he has played in numerous world leading festivals and halls, including Gstaad, New York’s Lincoln Center, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Verbier and London’s Wigmore Hall.

As co-creator of his Conn-Selmer range of affordable clarinets under the Leblanc brand, Julian has inspired a generation of young players and introduced a substantial new audience to his instrument.

In 2010, Julian established the Julian Bliss Septet, creating programmes inspired by the King of Swing, Benny Goodman, and a show built around the extraordinary musical output of George Gershwin. A recording of the Gershwin programme “I Got Rhythm” released in 2021, receiving rave reviews by Gramophone.​

This season, Julian premieres a new concerto for Clarinet and Wind Orchestra, written for him by the eminent composer John Mackey. For the first performance he joins Dallas Winds with further performances taking place across the United States. Other concerto highlights include Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Penderecki’s Clarinet Concerto No.2 with the English Chamber Orchestra at Cadogan Hall. There are also festival appearances and numerous performances with his Jazz Septet celebrating the music of Gershwin, Benny Goodman and Jazz in film.

With the launch of Bliss Music in 2020, Julian’s arrangements of a selection of pieces for clarinet and piano have been made available as sheet music. These include Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata Op. 19, the third movement of which has been set as a Grade 6 piece on the new London College of Music clarinet syllabus.

The Band Post speaks to Julian Bliss as he joins the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in Singapore on 25 and 26 August 2023 for Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto!

It is very inspiring how innovative and versatile you are, while being a name that classical fans know and respect. What makes you tick as a clarinettist?

I just love playing music! I get so much enjoyment out of performing in front of an audience no matter what the genre. Every performance is different and I love taking calculated risks in my interpretation on stage. Being able to create something new and unique with some of the most incredible musicians is truly special, as well as seeing the audience enjoy what we’re creating.

Starting out as a classical musician, what made you decide to venture into jazz? Tell us about how the Julian Bliss Septet came to be.

I was planning a project based around Copland’s concerto and I was considering what else I could put with it. Considering it was written for Benny Goodman, I started to look into arranging some Benny Goodman tunes. I got completely carried away with myself and thought I would just dive in at the deep end and play those tunes the way they were supposed to be played with the authentic instrumentation. I love playing Jazz and there is, of course, a lot of freedom in performance. I am incredibly lucky to have a band made up of some of the greatest Jazz musicians around. We’re continually creating new programmes and evolving as a group. Being able to perform and tour with your friends is a huge amount of fun.

We can find video recordings of your Mozart on YouTube from 2008! Do you feel that your approach to this piece has changed over the years? How so?

That particular concert was very fun and hugely memorable for me. It was Queen Elizabeth’s 80th birthday concert, so to have Her Majesty in the concert hall was an incredible privilege. My interpretation has changed over the years but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily always conscious changes. I would like to think that I am still improving, as well as refining my interpretation of the piece. As you go through life, you also experience different things, so being able to channel those emotions into your performance also shapes your interpretation.

The Mozart clarinet concerto is a staple in the clarinet repertoire. What are some interesting things about your performance that you want audiences to take away?

This concerto was written for the Basset Clarinet which is quite a unique instrument. There are only really two pieces written for this Clarinet, Mozart’s Concerto and the Quintet. The Basset clarinet has an extra 4 notes of range on the low end. Having these extra notes gives an added richness to the sound, as well as having more parts of the concerto where I am in unison or in the range of the cellos.

It is a bit more difficult to play this clarinet given that it is longer and has more keys. The lowest note is operated by the thumb on the right hand. Usually this thumb does nothing but hold the instrument, so training it to actually do something takes a bit of time!

What are you most looking forward to doing in Singapore?

I can’t wait to be back in Singapore. I visited many years ago but it was not for long, so it will be really nice to be able to explore a little. I am most looking forward to playing with the orchestra! This is my first time with them and also the first time in Victoria Hall. I am very happy that we have two performances together. Aside from that, I have never visited the Gardens by the Bay, so that is definitely on my list. I also must admit that I am a little sad to be missing the F1 race. I am a huge F1 fan, so I will just have to come back to see it!

Do you have any advice for young musicians?

It may sound quite simple, but a piece of advice given to me by Wayne Shorter was ‘Never give up’. We all want to make progress very quickly, but the reality is that it’s a never ending process. For myself, there are areas of my playing where I feel I can do better, and I’ve been playing for nearly 30 years now. The other piece of advice I would give is to accept that sometimes we will fail. You won’t always be successful in every audition, or get that job you were hoping for. Use it as a learning experience to make yourself better for next time. Essentially the short answer to the question is: Always continue to push yourself and challenge what you think you can do. If you dedicate yourself to what you love and have discipline, you will succeed.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

I have quite an eclectic taste in music, so at the moment I am listening to quite a few different things. The music that tends to be on rotation for me lately are recordings by Martha Argerich and Oscar Peterson, music by Rachmaninov, Mahler and Dvorak and recently quite a lot of Count Basie.


Written By Claudia