Julian Bliss, clarinettist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

When I was 4, I decided that I wanted to play music. I wasn’t sure which instrument I wanted to play, but I was pretty set that I was going to play music of some kind. To cut a long story short; my Mum took me to Harpenden Musicale, a music school run by Gill and Dave Johnston (the parents of Guy Johnston, Artistic Director of the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival). They let me play a number of different instruments but as soon as I tried the Clarinet, I was hooked. So, in my early musical life, they were very influential. In more recent years, one of my biggest influences was Sabine Meyer. I studied with her for a number of years and have always greatly admired her playing. She really had a profound impact on me and my music-making.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

That’s a tough question and in many ways it’s a continuous challenge, in a good way! You have to always develop and improve your playing and really focus on the small details. It’s a never-ending quest and there is always something to work on!

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I am quite self-critical so, when listening to performances and recordings, the things that always stand out to me are the things I feel I could have done better or differently. The fact is that you will listen to a recording from 5, maybe 10 years ago and feel differently about it now. To me, that’s a good thing and shows evolution in your playing. When it comes down to it though, I feel most proud when I give it my everything on stage, and the audience leave the concert having had a good time and hopefully with a smile on their face!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

In the chamber and recital guise, I feel that I play the Romantic works the best and have always had a love for that era of classical music; there is so much emotion and rich harmony to play with. I feel at home playing a Brahms Sonata, for example. On the concerto side, I would like to think I give a good performance of the Copland Concerto! It’s also one of my favourites which definitely helps.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

For me, it’s the collaboration with other musicians and creating something unique in the moment that inspires me. Even if everyone has played that piece a hundred times like the Mozart Clarinet quartet, you can discover and try new things which take the performance to a new level. That’s the part of music-making that excites me. Also, meeting and speaking with musicians that have achieved the sort of thing I aspire to, always inspires me to be relentless and strive to be the best I can be.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I don’t have a specific favourite venue, but generally I prefer venues that are not too dry! I like it when I get something back from the hall and I love using that to my advantage during the performance. Hatfield House is an incredible place to hold concerts and especially the Marble Hall, which has so much history and character. It’s always an enjoyable place to play.

I am looking forward to playing in the Marble Hall again this year for the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival. I will be playing JP Jofre’s Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bandoneon, string quintet and piano. I first met JP in Australia back in 2018 and we became friends quickly. I loved his playing and found his compositions very enjoyable to perform and listen to. This will be my first time playing his double concerto. I’m really looking forward to performing alongside JP Jofre and playing one of his newest pieces. It is a fun and challenging work for all of us, and I am looking forward to it.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Two that instantly come to mind are the concerts I did for the Queen. Playing for the Queen is an incredible honour and was something I never imagined I would do. I think that’s pretty hard to beat!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

If you’re doing what you love and enjoying yourself. It seems quite simple but I think that’s all that really matters.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

That it takes time. When it comes to performing, we only ever see the final result and never the hours, days, months and years of hard work that goes into it. It requires a huge amount of self-discipline and hard work. You may not notice results after a day or a week, but you do improve every single day you practice effectively. It’s important to have your eyes on a long-term goal, but also set yourself short-term goals to keep yourself motivated.

Julian Bliss performs at this year’s Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival. Full details here

Julian Bliss is one of the world’s finest clarinettists, excelling as a concerto soloist, chamber musician, recitalist, jazz artist, and masterclass leader. As co-creator of his Conn-Selmer range of affordable clarinets under the Leblanc brand, he has inspired a generation of young players and introduced a substantial new audience to his instrument. Julian started playing the clarinet aged four and went on to study in the United States at the University of Indiana and in Germany under Sabine Meyer, turning professional aged just twelve.

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