Isn’t it romantic? Simon Mulligan in Valentine’s Day jazz concert
A visit by Simon Mulligan has become a tradition this time of year at Allentown’s Miller Symphony Hall.
The Simon Mulligan Trio will appear for the seventh time in Miller Symphony Hall, for the “Jazz Upstairs” series, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14, on Valentine’s Day.
Appearing with Mulligan is Gene Perla, upright bass, and Dave Willard, drums.
Last year, English pianist Mulligan played two sold-out concerts with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra (ASO), performing George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm Variations” and “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Mulligan has the rare ability to be at ease playing classical music and jazz. During his first concert with the ASO in 2012, he played Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 21.”
He was first asked to perform in Miller Symphony Hall by Allentown Symphony Director and Conductor Diane Wittry after appearing with the Reading Symphony Orchestra and in Kutztown.
Mulligan has appeared with the BBC Symphony, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, English Symphony Orchestra and Royal National Scottish Orchestra, He has also performed for President Barack Obama and the Queen and the Royal Family of England.
“Classical audiences like jazz a lot,” he says in a phone interview. “Classical programs have become more diverse.
“And in jazz clubs, I can play a little classical music and no one complains. It is nice to refresh the palette and to show how much great music is out there.”
He says playing with a symphony is “a nice relaxing thing to do.” He mentions performing on the main stage in Miller Symphony Hall with the ASO and then “popping upstairs” to the Rodale Community Room to play jazz. The self-effacing Mulligan makes it sound easy.
“I’ve enjoyed improvisation in various styles. I’m not fussy about what you should or shouldn’t play.
“It’s nice blurring the boundaries between styles. Beethoven tried some crazy chords. He was always pushing boundaries with new harmonies, rhythms and musical structures.”
Mulligan has recorded more classical music than jazz, but he does not expect to play classical music in the Valentine’s Day concert. “You can’t do much classical with a jazz rhythm section behind you,” he says.
The concert will be romantic music based around the Great American Songbook. He names, “Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and perhaps a few originals of my own.” He has recorded two CDs of American standards.
“There will be lots of tunes people know. There will be an intermission, so we can take requests, and people can sing along.”
The trio will be flexible. “We always have a set list, but by the third or fourth tune we look at the shape of the evening to see what people respond to.”
Last year, Mulligan performed at the New York Historical Society, on a 1907 piano that once belonged to Cole Porter when he lived at the Waldorf Astoria. The piano is on loan while the hotel is being renovated.
Mulligan’s music versatility has led him to record many albums for the Steinway Spirio, a high-resolution playback piano. His range has included Beethoven, Queen, ABBA, John Denver, Arabic music and Chinese folk songs.
“A bit of everything, all styles,” he says, enjoying the challenge of the variety. “No matter what country they are from or what language they speak, musicians can always come together.”
Mulligan began to read and play music at age three. “I had a natural love of music.” Despite his being a prodigy, he says, “My parents never pushed me. I had a normal upbringing. I began lessons with an elderly lady who lived next door, I enjoyed the piano and reading and writing music as well. I also played violin for a little bit.
“This is a nice area. I’ve always loved this part of Pennsylvania,” says Mulligan.
His many fans here have equally warm feelings toward him.
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; millersymphonyhall.org; 610-432-6715