Meet Julian Bliss, the clarinettist who has performed for the Queen and is playing in North Yorkshire for Northern Aldborough Festival

Ann Chadwick caught up with one of the world’s finest clarinettists, musician Julian Bliss before his appearance at the Northern Aldborough Festival in North Yorkshire next month.

What does ‘one of the world’s finest clarinettists’ do when he can’t play live?

“I ended up with a decent amount of houseplants,” Julian Bliss laughs. “I don’t know quite how that happened. I ended up with a bit of a jungle.”

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Julian returned to the UK from touring America the day before the US shut its borders in the first lockdown in 2020. “There was that moment when you knew things weren’t going to be okay. Systematically, the phone would ring and everything was getting postponed and cancelled, until the point where your year looks very bleak, very empty, and you’re stuck at home.”

Clarinettist Julian Bliss. Photo: Ben WrightClarinettist Julian Bliss. Photo: Ben Wright
Clarinettist Julian Bliss. Photo: Ben Wright
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Musician Julian is conscious of how lucky he is, despite his industry “evaporating” overnight. “You don’t really know what to do with yourself. It was tough. Saying that, my time pales into insignificance in terms of other peoples’ experiences.”

Aged six, Julian performed for Prince Phillip. He turned professional at just 12. Now 32, he’s played all the world’s leading concert halls and festivals. Julian says: “I’ve been incredibly lucky and honoured to do performances for different members of the Royal family, as well as the Queen.

“It’s something you never dream of, or expect, it’s a real dream come true. To be given those opportunities was life changing.”

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Julian Bliss is performing at the Northern Aldborough Festival. Photo: Ben WrightJulian Bliss is performing at the Northern Aldborough Festival. Photo: Ben Wright
Julian Bliss is performing at the Northern Aldborough Festival. Photo: Ben Wright

Julian’s family aren’t musical, his dad owns a motorcycle shop. His parents’ support however, allowed him to pursue his talent. He studied for about six years under the German clarinettist, Sabine Meyer – the first woman in the Berlin Philharmonic.

“For a lot of people at a young age you’re figuring out for years what you like, or don’t like and what you want to do. I’m unbelievably – thankful doesn’t come close – to the people in my life who supported me – my family, my teachers who allowed me to express myself and explore the things I wanted to do.”

To have all he’d worked for put on hold during the pandemic took some adjustment. “It was the longest I’d been home since I started my career. It took a while to find some motivation. I like a goal, and a diary of upcoming concerts means you’re always looking forward, so when that isn’t there, it took time to recalibrate.”

Julian ended up producing his own EP, arranging works of well-known American composers for wind ensemble. “I decided I had to find some inspiration somewhere. It’s given me skills; I spent the time learning things I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

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But performing live is where he really feels he belongs. “It becomes your normal going to concerts or hearing performances; you expect it’s always going to be there. When it’s not, it does give you a new found appreciation and respect for it. It gives you a different perspective on everything.

“The first concert I did after the lockdown was a Wigmore Hall recital. It was a really, really emotional experience. I hadn’t thought about it before hand but it really got to me how great it was being on stage in front of an audience. Everyone I’ve spoken to has said how amazing it is to be back listening to live music and being around it. I hope it does give us a new found appreciation of the arts.”

His emotion speaks of the power of live music. “I feel most comfortable on stage in front of an audience. I know that’s not necessarily normal, but that’s where my home is. Music, the arts, is such an emotive thing and can stir so many thoughts and ideas in each member of the audience and the musicians; it can mean something different to each person out there.”

There’s no shortage of scientific evidence that listening to classical music can improve your life, from boosting memory, to decreasing blood pressure and stress.

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Julian agrees: “They’ve proven music education has a significant impact on young people – on their exam results, on their development and social skills; the benefits are huge.”

Although he admired musicians doing endless live streams in lockdown to keep things going, he found performing to cameras in an empty concert hall dispiriting. “It’s very hard to get the emotions and feelings performing to an empty room. I hope that we do learn lessons from the pandemic, not just in music but in life.”

What kind of lessons? “Well, we’re not supposed to be on our own - being stuck at home is not good for us. Appreciating the people around you. Appreciating the things that we have in life, the freedoms that we have.

“In music, to be able to go to concerts and see incredible musicians perform. Also, just being mindful, being mindful of other people – thinking about other people’s health rather than your own. Just care for each other.”

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Next month, Julian performs with pianist James Baillieu during the Northern Aldborough Festival. Established in 1994, the festival is centred around the picturesque village of Aldborough in North Yorkshire.

It has been described by The Times as ‘well on its way to being one of the leading fixtures on the classical music calendar’. Its mission is to bring world-class artists to intimate rural locations for a truly unbeatable live experience.

“James and I have known each other for a number of years, and I’ve always loved his playing, his musicianship, and most of all he’s just a lovely human being, we get along very well,” Julian says.

The pair released a recording in 2021 on Signum Records of Brahms Clarinet Sonatas. “We decided we had to perform it live, so this concert is Brahms and some Schumann. It’s going to be some really lovely music, and it will be great to get back and perform with James.”

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Hosted across two weeks from 16 to 25 June, highlights of the festival include a rare appearance by the finest British bass of his era, Sir John Tomlinson, jazz singer Claire Martin, described by The Times as ‘easily the best British singer of her generation’, and the hottest classical guitar talent of the moment, Sean Shibe.

Playing a village church is a far cry from London’s Wigmore Hall, the international home of chamber music.

“Music should be accessible,” Julian says. “Music is for everyone. The big, large concert halls can be out of reach for some people. And sometimes the most enjoyable concerts are the ones in an intimate setting, in a beautiful place with a small audience – those are often more impactful. It’s a different atmosphere. Everybody should have the opportunity to go and hear music on their doorstep.”

To those who have never checked out a classical gig, he hopes being on the doorstep will entice them to give it a try. “You might come along and discover something you really love. With the level of musicians that are coming to the festival, there’s going to be some incredible music making, so I feel lucky to be a part of it, it’s going to be fun.”

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The Northern Aldborough Festival runs 16-25 June. Julian Bliss and James Baillieu perform St Andrew’s Church on Friday 17 June, 7.30pm. For the full festival line up, and to book tickets, visit