May 7, 2016 was an emotional concert for Maestro Grant Cooper, who has been Artistic Director and Conductor of the WVSO for the past 15 years. The program that night was a complete surprise to the audience, only to be revealed that evening. Titled "Maestro's Fantasia", he chose to select music that was a culmination of his tremendous success as West Virginia's Maestro.
In case you missed this monumental performance, you have the chance to hear it again on ENCORE: WEST VIRGINIA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA through West Virginia Public Broadcasting on June 29th at 1 pm. Stream online or change the dial to your local WVPB public radio channel -- and this time, you'll know what the program is! Encore: WVSO is hosted by composer and Charleston native, Matthew Jackfert.
Maestro Cooper and the WVSO performed some incredible music that evening. The first half of the program is music composed by Cooper himself so you can only imagine how meaningful those performances were. Starting off the broadcast will be Cooper's Appalachian Autumn. You might recognize this tune if you've never heard it from the WVSO (hint, oh those West Virginia Hills....).
Up next is A Song of Longing, Though... (Cooper) with soprano soloist Janet Brown. The story behind this piece of music is just as beautiful as the piece itself. Ellen's Ice Cream holds a special place in a lot of people's hearts, and this is especially true for the WVSO. Tom and Ellen Beal have been long-time friends of the WVSO; Tom is currently a horn player and Ellen retired from her position as a flutist at the end of the 13-14 season. Tom Beal wrote a poem that he wished to be set to orchestral music as a gift to his dear wife Ellen on their 30th anniversary. He commissioned Maestro Cooper to compose A Song of Longing, Though... that was premiered by the orchestra in April 2007.
Following is a tribute to a former, long-time concertmaster John Lambros. Lambros brought the Suzuki teaching method here to Charleston, and shared the joys of music with hundreds of children throughout the valley. In honor of Mr. Lambros' outstanding musical career, Maestro Cooper composed the Twinkle, Twinkle (little star) Variations arranged for orchestra. This is one of the first pieces that children learn under the Suzuki method, and Maestro Cooper completely surprised John Lambros that evening with a full orchestral arrangement of the tune.
Concluding the concert is a monument of a piece: Gustav Mahler's 9th Symphony, which was the last premiered work for the composer before his death, and is often interpreted as being Mahler's "farewell" to life. It's quite ironic that he left his 10th symphony unfinished and ended with a total of 9 symphonies. Mahler entertained a deep-rooted superstition about symphonies and the number nine, later to be known in the classical world as the "Curse of the Ninth" holding the belief that the ninth symphony is destined to be a composer's last. He was acutely aware of his own death, with the opening bars of this Ninth Symphony "imitating the arrhythmia of his failing heartbeat" according to Leornard Bernstein, but we'll never really know if Mahler had originally intended for it to actually be his farewell.
Maestro Cooper's comments on Maestro's Fantasia:
"With this performance having the potential of being the last symphonic concert I would conduct with WVSO, the program had special significance to me, of course. With the added component of our paying tribute to the extraordinary musical career of John Lambros, this feeling was enhanced dramatically. The program became a reflection on the creativity that our community has fostered in me; a tribute to the many talented individuals who have made their musical home here, (as exemplified by Mr. Lambros); and a way of saying farewell in the most poignant way I know that exists in the symphonic repertoire, Mahler's Ninth Symphony. If you were at the concert, this encore performance will, I hope, inspire fond memories. If not, I trust you will find the radio broadcast to be a fitting statement of 'au revoir'."