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

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

In 1993, Mr. Cooper’s interest in baroque works for greater powers led him to found the Berkshire Bach Ensemble, an extension of the Berkshire Bach Society in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, for its third year. The ensemble, which he directed for 23 years, presented chamber and orchestral programs in various locations. The concerts included an annual New Year’s Eve program in which Bach’s six Brandenburg concerts were often performed.

This offering became so popular that over time it spread to multiple locations over several days, notably at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. An article by Berkshire Eagle related to Mr. Cooper’s last New Year’s program in 2016 estimated that he had directed around 200 Brandenburg concert performances for the society.

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

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

Mr. Cooper began studying the piano at a young age. A short stay of the harpsichordist Fernando Valenti at his high school inspired him for this instrument and led to his studies at the Mannes College of Music with the well-known harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe. He then attended Columbia University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a 1971 doctorate in musicology.

While directing a student company in 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.