World-Renowned Clarinetist to Perform at ATU Sunday

Julian Bliss
Julian Bliss

At the age of 11, his prodigious talent on clarinet inspired a three-part television documentary. He twice performed for Queen Elizabeth II by royal invitation. The breadth of his abilities has won him international acclaim as a concerto soloist, chamber musician, recitalist, jazz artist and master class leader.

On Sunday, April 23, Julian Bliss will perform at Arkansas Tech University.

“It is not hyperbole to say that Julian Bliss is among the most recognized and celebrated clarinet soloists in the world,” said Dr. Daniel A. Belongia, ATU director of bands and professor of music.

Bliss will perform during the 2022-23 season-ending ATU Symphonic Wind Ensemble concert at Witherspoon Auditorium, 407 West Q Street in Russellville. The show will begin at 2:30 p.m. Admission will be free and open to the public.

Additional highlights will include a world premiere performance of “At Peace” by Katahj Copley, which will become catalog No. 1 in the newly-endowed ATU Hal Cooper Repertoire Collection, and a consortium premiere of James Stephenson’s “Lonesome Valley Suite.”

Born in 1989 in England, Bliss began playing the clarinet at the age of 4. By the time he was 8, he had been admitted to The Purcell School for Young Musicians, the oldest specialist music school in the United Kingdom. He performed at Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 and was invited back to play clarinet at her 80th birthday.

In recital and chamber music, Bliss has played at many of the world’s leading festivals and halls, including Gstaad, New York’s Lincoln Center, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Verbier and London’s Wigmore Hall.

As a soloist, Bliss has performed with a wide range of international orchestras, including the Auckland Philharmonia, BBC Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Chamber Orchestra of Paris, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sao Paolo Symphony and the Queensland Symphony.

For his appearance at ATU, Bliss will appear as soloist on a new transcription of “Liquid Melancholy,” which was originally composed by Stephenson as a concerto for clarinet and orchestra. Belongia commissioned Stephenson to re-imagine it as a wind ensemble piece for Bliss’ appearance at Arkansas Tech.

As for Stephenson’s “Lonesome Valley Suite,” Belongia described it as “a creative, clever and joyous arrangement of many Arkansan and American folk songs into a suite for winds and percussion.” The folk songs include “The Silver Dagger,” “Raccoon and Possum,” “Down in the Valley,” “Tom Sherburner’s Bar Room,” “The Murdered Wife (McFee’s Confession)” and “The Gum-Tree Canoe.”

Composers Copley and Stephenson will visit the Arkansas Tech campus to work with the ATU Symphonic Wind Ensemble in advance of the concert and during recording sessions of their compositions.

Bliss will host a master class in Witherspoon Hall room 111 at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 22, as part of his residency at ATU. The master class is free and open to all students of any age and the general public.

“This is all made possible by dedicated alumni, former professors and friends of the ATU music program who have generously supported our goal of collaborating our students with the best performers, composers and repertoire available,” said Belongia. “Benefactors such as Prissy and Roger Wattam, Professor Emeritus Dr. Gary Barrow, Professor Emeritus Hal Cooper, the Loretz family, Hal Cooper Jr. of Cooper Music Inc. and everyone who has contributed to the Robert and Frankie Casey Guest Artist Series share our commitment to building upon Arkansas Tech’s well-established foundation for musical excellence. We are indescribably grateful to everyone who supports our students in that endeavor.”

Copley’s “At Peace” represents the fulfillment of a promise that was made in November 2021 when the Hal Cooper Repertoire Collection was announced.

“The Cooper Repertoire Collection’s objective is to ensure that ATU student musicians continue to have access to premium compositions that challenge and inspire them,” said Belongia.

The collection’s namesake served as director of bands at Arkansas Tech from 1979-2011. Cooper was named ATU professor emeritus of music in 2013 and he received the highest honor the university may bestow upon an individual — induction into the ATU Hall of Distinction — in 2017.

Copley’s “At Peace,” the first entry into the Cooper Repertoire Collection, was inspired by the composer’s reconciliation with his father just months before the elder’s passing.

“You hear the sadness, disconnect and pain,” said Belongia. “And then you hear the resolution and love. It is a truly powerful and emotional composition. We’re honored by Mr. Copley’s trust to bring it to life.”

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