Born in New Zealand as the son of a professional opera singer, Cooper 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, he traveled to the United States for further studies in music. His initial opportunities as a conductor grew from his colleagues’ invitations to lead them in larger chamber ensemble performances. Since then, his many guest conducting engagements have included the Houston Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, The Florida Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony, New Mexico Philharmonic, Buffalo Philharmonic, Rochester Philharmonic, Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia, and Syracuse Opera, among many others. Recently, he made successful debut appearances with the Kennedy Center Orchestra and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and travelled to Malaysia this season to debut with the Malaysian Philharmonic.
Prior to accepting his position as artistic director and conductor of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra in 2001, Cooper served as resident conductor of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra for ten seasons. He also serves as artistic director of the annual Bach and Beyond festival in Fredonia, New York and as a resident conductor at the Eastern Music Festival.
A commissioned composer, Cooper’s concert works include A Song of Longing, Though…, for soprano and orchestra, which has received numerous performances in recent seasons, and his ballet, On the Appalachian Trail, which was premiered in 2010 at Chautauqua. He recently completed a commission to write original film scores for two Charlie Chaplin movies and composed a chamber work on commission from the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, which was premiered there in May, 2012. Cooper is especially passionate about creating works designed to introduce young audiences to the orchestra and has created a substantial body of works for this purpose.
Cooper has recorded for Delos International, Atoll, Ode, Mark, and Kiwi Pacific recordings, and has the unique distinction of having CD recordings of himself as conductor, performer, and composer, all currently available in the catalog.
Mr. Cooper’s service to the state of West Virginia has been honored in many ways, among them his receiving, in the spring of 2012, a Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service in the Arts. Fairmont State University conferred on Mr. Cooper the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, at its May 2017 commencement ceremonies.