Gary Cooper was born in Ealing, London late in 1968, and spent his formative years growing up in the Downs of rural Kent. Coming from a non-musical background, he started playing the piano when he was nearly 9.
His first piano teacher handed him a pile of faded, ancient editions of the essential classical repertoire, and allowed him the freedom get to know these works in his own way, without the impositions of a tutor’s interpretation or opinions; without recordings, or access to concerts. With hindsight, this was a remarkable early experience, since it allowed the young Gary to approach music with the freshness of innocent eyes, the joy of an imagination springing into life, trusting in his own musical instinct.
Subsequently, he started learning the violin, followed by the organ, and went on to study at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, followed by the John Loosemore Centre in Devon, before becoming an Organ Scholar at New College, Oxford.
Gary’s studies at Oxford opened his eyes to historical performance practice, the harpsichord & to making recordings. He went on to join the European Community Baroque Orchestra for a year, and then became a member of Monica Huggett’s award-winning ensemble, Sonnerie, which toured & recorded constantly. In 2000, he left the group to focus his attention on solo playing & conducting.
During this period, he was in particular known for his interpretations of Bach’s keyboard music: performing both the Goldberg Variations & the entire Well-Tempered Clavier extensively throughout N. America, Asia, and all over Europe, as well as recording the WTC for Sanctuary Classics (Book I winning the Sunday Times Record of the Year); and for his solo performances on fortepiano, with a particular focus on Beethoven’s piano music.
As a conductor, he specialised in C18th opera & directing orchestras from the keyboard, whether piano concertos or orchestral & choral programmes. He was one of those responsible for the reincarnation of Kent Opera, which gave notable productions of Handel & Benjamin Britten’s stage works - at one performance of Britten’s Albert Herring, he was described by the Times as ‘something of a genius’.
He toured for a number of years with English Touring Opera, and worked closely with a group of like- minded orchestras, such as Ensemble Arion of Montreal, the Portland Baroque Orchestra of Oregon, the Irish Baroque Orchestra & the Ensemble B’Rock of Belgium.
In 2004, he began a duo partnership with violinist Rachel Podger, performing all of Bach & Mozart’s violin & keyboard sonatas around the globe, followed by a multi-award-winning recording series of the complete Mozart works for Channel Classics.
During this time, Gary was also a keyboard professor at the Royal College of Music, the Royal Northern College of Music, the Welsh College of Music & Drama & at York University; gave regular masterclasses over the globe, and taught regularly at summer schools for students in Norfolk, Sweden & N. Italy.
In 2009, Gary made a recording of Bach’s Keyboard Concertos with B’Rock, and two solo recordings for Channel, one of which was the world premiere recording of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations on a contemporary, restored Viennese piano of 1822. These proved to be his last Classical Music recordings since in 2010, Gary and his wife Sabine re-located to the edge of the Moray Firth in N. Scotland, taking time out from their busy musical careers, enjoying the tranquility of life there.
The ‘time out’ became permanent when - a year later, with their first child due - they moved to rural Somerset, finally ending up on Exmoor National Park, where they have since settled and now have a family of 3 children.
Enjoying being a dad, and the locality which they have called home, Gary has increasingly become involved in community music-making in the last few years. He became organist at his local church in Dulverton and has helped to set up opportunities for local children and adults to play or learn instruments, or to sing in choirs.
In recent years, a more personal journey with music has led him to experiment increasingly in free improvisation on the piano, to the extent that it is now the main focus of his own music-making; this is in marked contrast to the usual pathway of a classically-trained musician, acting as interpreter for published composer’s works. He finds the lack of constraint involved in this form of playing, as well as the constant responsiveness of the musical imagination, both extremely refreshing & liberating. All being well post- lockdown, he is looking forward to performing an improvised work in public later this year, based on the celestial bodies of the Solar System -