Kenneth Cooper, Harpsichordist With Improviser’s Gift, Dies at 79

Kenneth Cooper, Harpsichordist With Improviser’s Gift, Dies at 79

Kenneth Cooper, Harpsichordist With Improviser’s Gift, Dies at 79

Kenneth Cooper, Harpsichordist With Improviser’s Gift, Dies at 79

In 1993, Mr. Cooper’s interest in Baroque works for larger forces led him to found the Berkshire Bach Ensemble, an extension of the Berkshire Bach Society in Great Barrington, Mass., then in its third year. The ensemble, which he directed for 23 years, presented chamber and orchestra programs in various locations. The concerts included an annual New Year’s Eve program, often featuring Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos.

This offering grew so popular that in time it spread over several days at several sites, most notably the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. A Berkshire Eagle article in conjunction with Mr. Cooper’s final New Year’s program, in 2016, estimated that he had presided over some 200 Brandenburg Concerto performances for the society.

“I’ve enjoyed every single one of them,” the article quoted Mr. Cooper as saying. “I’ve had the most amazing group of players.”

Kenneth Cooper was born in New York City on May 31, 1941, and grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. His father, Rudolf, a British immigrant, taught English at the High School of Music and Art (now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts). His mother, Florence (Buxbaum) Cooper, after raising Mr. Cooper and his sister, Constance, worked at the Museum of Modern Art and became active in the League of Women Voters. Both parents were painters and art collectors.

Mr. Cooper began studying piano at a young age. A brief residency at his high school by the harpsichordist Fernando Valenti fired his enthusiasm for that instrument, leading to his studies at the Mannes College of Music with the eminent harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe. He then attended Columbia University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s and, in 1971, a doctorate in musicology.

While leading a student ensemble at Columbia, Mr. Cooper auditioned a soprano from Barnard College for a staged production of Handel’s “Acis and Galatea.” That singer, Josephine Mongiardo, won the role of Galatea, and she and Mr. Cooper married in 1969.


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