Meet the Maestro
Let’s learn more about Maestro Cooper and his many accomplishments.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Wellington, New Zealand. New Zealand is a beautiful island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. Wellington is the nation capital.
Can you locate New Zealand on a map? Two major islands form the largest part of the country as well as many other smaller islands. Like West Virginia, New Zealand has many mountains and open, rural areas in which few people live. But there are also urban areas such as Wellington and Aukland. Unlike West Virginia, my native country, while it is about the size of the state of California, has about the same length of coastline as the entire continental United States!
What was your childhood like?
My mother was a professional opera singer, so my childhood was filled with an appreciation for music. I acted in my first opera when I was only four years old! I also studied piano and music theory before going to college. Music theory is the study of theoretical elements of music such as sound and pitch, rhythm, melody, harmony, and music notation. We touch on some of these topics throughout this website. It is never too late to learn as much as you can about music and other art forms. I was very lucky to have been surrounded by these opportunities at a very young age.
What types of subjects did you study in college and what did you do after college?
It might surprise you to know that I completed a degree in Pure Mathematics at the University of Auckland. I then traveled the world as a performing musician to places such as Beijing, China and London, England. Having been a practicing musician for many years myself, it helps me to form a closer bond with West Virginia Symphony Orchestra musicians, as well as musicians in other orchestras that I sometimes conduct. My many years of college teaching experience have also been valuable when I work with the orchestra to practice and perform very demanding pieces of music.
When you hear a live WVSO concert, you will hear a performance that has been rehearsed very carefully by the orchestra. As in the case with this concert and many times when the orchestra performs, the composer of the music is not living or may not be readily available, so it is my job as conductor to help the orchestra understand the music and how it should best be performed. An orchestral musician does not merely play the notes written in the score. Each musician must individually feel and understand the approach, ideas and emotion that the composer wanted or wants to express through his music and then come together as a group to create a unified performance. Even a soloist must work with the conductor and other musicians.
My background in mathematics really is an important point to back to because it is an example of how interrelated music and math really are. Learning to read and understand music is a great way to use math in a practical, but very interesting way. Many schools around the country now use music examples to teach math topics such as fractions. Math has certainly been very helpful to me in my music career and I can say the exact reverse is also true.
What brought you to the United States?
I accepted a fellowship to study with a very important musician named Gerard Schwarz in New York City. He was principal trumpeter of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at the time. This led to performances in New York City’s Carnegie Hall and at Tanglewood (which is the summer home for the Boston Symphony Orchestra).
I turned down an opportunity to perform as the solo trumpet for the orchestra of La Scala. La Scala is in Milan, Italy, and is one of the most famous opera houses in the world. This enabled me to study with Mr. Schwarz (who is now the Music Director or the Seattle Symphony Orchestra). Since 1997, I served many years as the Resident Conductor of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra before coming to West Virginia in 2001 to take on my current role as the 9th Artistic Director and Conductor of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
Tell us more about some other types of events and opportunities that have been a part of your professional career.
I have been very fortunate to have had a number of wonderful opportunities! I served as a guest conductor for the XIVth (14th) Commonwealth Games closing ceremonies, held in Auckland, New Zealand.
The Commonwealth Games are similar to the Olympics, but the participants in this series of sporting events are part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. To research the Commonwealth Games further, access the official website at: www.commonwealthgames.com. This website also has a great deal of information on each participating country and will help you better understand the British Commonwealth.
I have also recently reached the very important milestone of having CD recordings of my work in each of the three major roles of my music career: performer, conductor, and composer.
How did you become a composer and what types of music do you compose?
I strongly believe that orchestral music is a living, vital and relevant part of our society. It is one of the most flexible of the art forms and can be appreciated by everyone.
I have a strong passion for creating works that introduce young audiences to the incredible world of symphonic music. My educational music compositions are a mixture of many modern and traditional music styles. I really like to create a great deal of interactive experiences between the audience, the conductor, and the orchestra when my music is performed.
Where do you and your family now live?
My family and I live in Charleston, West Virginia, and are very happy to be living and working in this beautiful state. West Virginians are some of the friendliest people that I have met in the entire world!