Maestro Grant Cooper conducts his last performance for West Virginia Symphony Orchestra
Cooper is wrapping up his time as the conductor and Artistic Director of the West Virginia Symphony, a position he has held since 2001.
He has conducted over 750 performances of that group. Cooper will be stepping down after this season, his 16th with the orchestra. He will continue on and conduct the orchestra from time to time until a permanent replacement can be found and locates to the state. He also hasn’t ruled out the possibility he may return to Parkersburg one day to conduct the orchestra again as a guest conductor.
He was born and raised in New Zealand where he was involved in music all his life. He received a degree in mathematics. He came to the United States to study music and has since become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Sunday’s concert at Blennerhassett School in Parkersburg highlighted music that was near and dear to Cooper, the music of the Beatles — particularly the music from one of their all-time greatest albums, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The album was originally released June 1, 1967.
“I was a teenager when John, Paul, George and Ringo first came to America, and it’s an honor to be a part of recreating some of their timeless songs,” Cooper said. “Perhaps the most amazing thing about coming of age in that decade was that The Beatles were happening in our own time.
“Each new song came out and hit us anew with its poignant relevancy to our own lives. The Beatles gave our generation a voice.”
One of the things that appealed to Cooper to do this show was how The Beatles themselves utilized a symphony orchestra in creating the songs.
“The marriage of a pop group with a symphony orchestra has become the most natural of partnerships,” Cooper said.
The orchestra played a number of popular Beatles songs, such as “Nowhere Man,” “Penny Lane,” “Yesterday” and then played the whole “Sgt. Pepper” album, song by song, including “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “When I’m Sixty-Four” and more.
Cooper said the album was “groundbreaking” and has influenced many of artists over the years since its release.
Music is something that has always remained personal for Cooper. The conductor, through movement and gestures, affects the quality of the music being played.
Although a melody may be familiar to people, it is how the conductor shapes the sound that ends up affecting the audience listening to it.
“The music itself is what does the talking,” he said.
When Cooper first took the stage Sunday, he was greeted by a standing ovation from the almost sold out crowd attending the concert. Before the show even began, there were Grant Cooper bobblehead figures available for concert goers to purchase.
Many in attendance recognized Cooper’s contributions to the orchestra over the years.
“We have been very lucky to have him,” said Ellen Cordar of Cutler, Ohio. “Under his direction, the symphony has become a much more professional group.”
She credits Cooper’s approach to educating the audience about the music being performed.
“He will have something to say about the composer, the time it was written and what meaning it has,” Cordar said. “It is very interesting.”
She has been a season ticket holder for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra-Parkersburg for a number of years, having been brought to a performance by friends.
“I realized it was something that I liked and I have been here ever since,” Cordar said.
Most of her time with the symphony parallels Cooper’s time conducting it.
“We have been very lucky to have him,” she said. “I hope we see him again.
“Supposedly he is suppose to be back from time to time. I hope so, because he has been a real gem. He is just a person that I will miss.”
Judson Currey, of Parkersburg, came with his wife Jennifer and a friend.
“We are season ticket holders and we have come to all of the symphonies for 15 years,” he said. “I like classical music and it is a way to support the arts.
“You have to support the arts.”
Currey attributes their time coming to the different concerts to the work Cooper had done with the group.
“Grant Cooper has done a tremendous job,” Currey said. “We really like him.
“We are sad to see him go, but time goes on and that is the way it works.”
Becky Deem, League President for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra-Parkersburg Board of Directors, said Cooper has done so much with his time with the symphony.
“He has a lot of energy, a great talent and he loves what he’s doing,” she said. “He is a great music educator. He writes pieces for children and does performances here and in Charleston.
“He is the only conductor I have known (being involved with the symphony for 15 years). I know we have enjoyed him while he was here and I know we will miss him when he is gone.”
Cooper said he is planning to devote more time to composing and guest conducting.
“Composing is something I am having more and more of an interest in,” he said. “Conducting is something that gives me great joy.”
Symphony officials said Cooper conducted over 80 concerts, for children and adults, in the Parkersburg area during his time with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
Cooper said he enjoyed performing in the auditorium at Blennerhassett School.
“It is a very intimate setting, something that can be lost in larger halls,” he said. “It has always been very special to be able to perform in that setting.”
Cooper was very thankful to the people of Parkersburg and the surrounding area who have come out and supported the symphony.
“They have always been supportive and kind,” he said. “I will miss all the friendly faces.”