Grant Cooper, Artistic Director and Conductor of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, was named to the position in March 2001, and officially began his duties as the 9th conductor in the WVSO’s history on July 1, 2001. From 1997-2007, Mr. Cooper served as Resident Conductor of the Syracuse Symphony, where he gave over 600 performances with that orchestra, appearing to critical acclaim on all the major series. Mr. Cooper is also Artistic Director of a summer festival, the Bach and Beyond Festival in Fredonia, New York.
Mr. Cooper was born in Wellington, New Zealand, the son of a professional opera singer. He sang and acted in his first opera at age four, and studied piano and music theory prior to college. After completing his degree in Pure Mathematics at the University of Auckland, his performing career took him to many of the major concert halls of the world from Beijing to London. Following a performance at the Henry A. Wood Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall under conductor Claudio Abbado, Mr. Cooper was invited by Maestro Abbado to join the orchestra of La Scala as solo trumpet. Instead, Mr. Cooper accepted a fellowship from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council for study with Bernard Adelstein and Gerard Schwarz in the United States. This, in turn, led to performances in New York’s Carnegie Hall and at Tanglewood under Arthur Fiedler, where he also performed as principal trumpet under conductors Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, and Sir Neville Marriner, among others.
Mr. Cooper was guest conductor of the XIVth Commonwealth Games closing ceremonies, appearing with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa as soloist. In Europe, his engagement as guest conductor for the Mozart Wochen of the Heidelberger Schlossfestspiele prompted high critical praise. His appearances with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra have generated considerable enthusiasm and acclaim across the whole gamut of programs, showing his deep affinity for repertoire of enormous stylistic range. Mr. Cooper’s collaborations with artists such as Hilary Hahn, Midori, Elmar Oliviera, and Deborah Voigt have, similarly, prompted critical praise for his skills as an accompanist.
In past seasons, Mr. Cooper has appeared regularly as guest conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestras of Buffalo and Rochester. In recent years he has made his debuts with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Spokane Symphony, the Erie Philharmonic, the Kansas City Symphony, as well as with the Stamford (CT), Modesto (CA), and Youngstown (OH) Symphony Orchestras. He returned to New Zealand to conduct the millennium celebrations there with the Auckland Philharmonia. He appeared as guest conductor to Ottawa’s Thirteen Strings for many seasons and conducted several engagements with Syracuse Opera, including Così fan Tutte, The Barber of Seville, and The Marriage of Figaro. With the WVSO, Cooper’s operatic repertoire has also included Tosca, Carmen, and La Bohème.
In 2008, Mr. Cooper made successful debut appearances with the Jacksonville (FL), Elgin (IL), and Wichita (KS) Symphony Orchestras. In the summer of 2008, he conducted two evenings of ballet at New York’s Chautauqua Institution featuring North Carolina Dance Theatre’s recreations of George Balanchine’s choreography, as well as making his debut with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra on its symphonic season. He has returned to Chautauqua as a guest conductor in each subsequent season.
In their March 2009 Pops concerts, the WVSO premiered Mr. Cooper’s original scores for two Charlie Chaplin films: The Immigrant and Easy Street. Mr. Cooper’s original concert work for soprano and orchestra entitled A Song of Longing, Though..., with poetry by Tom Beal, was premiered by the orchestra in April 2007 and was performed by the Chautauqua Symphony in 2010. Cooper was awarded the National Symphony Orchestra Chamber Music Commission following competitive adjudication as part of the 2010 American Residency program of the NSO. His new work will be premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in 2012.
Mr. Cooper is especially passionate about creating works designed to introduce young audiences to the orchestra, including such works as Rumpelstiltzkin for Narrator and Orchestra, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Boyz in the Wood for Coloratura Soprano and Rap Singer, and Song of the Wolf. His educational music is an eclectic blend of modern and established styles with interactive participation of the audience, a compositional style that reflects his belief that orchestral music is a living, vital, and relevant part of our society, able to be appreciated by all.
Mr. Cooper’s first arrangement for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” was premiered at Symphony Sunday in June 2002, and has found a permanent place in the orchestra’s repertoire. Further arrangements celebrating our Appalachian heritage and the WVSO’s role in honoring our shared cultural values include “West Virginia’s Home to Me” and “The West Virginia Hills.” Many of these works are featured on an audio CD released in the spring of 2011 titled Tales from the West Virginia Hills. The WVSO has also released a CD, Home for the Holidays, in December 2008 which features the orchestra’s performance of Mr. Cooper’s original and arranged music composed for the holiday season.
Mr. Cooper has recorded for Delos International, Atoll, Ode, Mark, and Kiwi Pacific recordings. As a conductor, a CD devoted to the premier recordings of the string music of New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn has been enthusiastically received. Recently, Mr. Cooper released Points in a Changing Circle, featuring himself as trumpet soloist in works by New Zealand composers and a CD featuring three of his own works recorded with the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra on a disc titled Boyz in the Wood. With this, Mr. Cooper has reached the milestone of having CD recordings of him as conductor, performer, and composer, all currently available in the catalogue.
Mr. Cooper resides in Charleston with his wife, Margie, and daughters, Jessica and Rachel.