Mountain State of Mind

Maestro Grant Cooper is retiring after 15 years as conductor of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra. In Episode 4 of “Mountain State of Mind,” a podcast of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Cooper talks about the art of conducting, how he tried to be Leonard Bernstein, the difference between conducting with a baton and your bare hands and more. The podcast is a companion piece to an article in the Friday, May 6, 2016 Charleston Gazette-Mail, excerpted below.

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Grant Cooper hit the big stage for the very first time as a very small guy.

The current maestro of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra was then age 4, growing up in Wellington, New Zealand. His mother would end up singing as a soloist with the New Zealand Opera Company, but before that she sang with a semi-professional opera outfit.

“Once, they needed a kid to come on stage,” recalled Cooper. “I had to shout, ‘The bears broke loose!’ It was before I could read obviously, so it’s a line I’ve never forgotten.”

His stage chops have come a long way since then. Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Clay Center and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Parkersburg’s Blennerhasset School, Cooper, 63, will mark 15 years of conducting the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra with a special concert dubbed “Maestro’s Fantasia.”

It’s Cooper’s swan song in leading the entire orchestra, as he announced his retirement this past fall. In the upcoming 2016-17 season, he will lead four Symphony Pops concerts, while potential new maestros of the WVSO will take turns leading the full orchestra in what amounts to live auditions.

In a wide-ranging interview at the symphony’s Wyoming Street offices last week, Gazette-Mail assistant lifestyle editor Douglas Imbrogno and freelance classical music reviewer David Williams talked with Cooper about his days as a trumpet star, just what a conductor does, the role of symphonies in the short-attention span digital age and more.