Former SPCO leader Bruce Coppock dies at 71

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Undated courtesy photo of Bruce Coppock, the former SPCO president who has been rehired. Photo by Ann Marsden, courtesy of SPCO.
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Bruce Coppock, former president and managing director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, has died at age 71, after a 16-year battle with cancer.

“He was a force of nature,” recalled SPCO’s artistic director Kyu-Young Kim. “He had such curiosity, combined with incredible intellect and love of learning.”

Kim fondly remembered the way Coppock could inspire people with his creativity and speaking ability. “He just had a huge heart,” Kim said. “He loved his family, he loved music and the orchestra. He was a great cultivator of relationships, too — with the board and with the community and throughout the field. He was so well respected.”

Coppock presided over the SPCO first from 1999 to 2008, when he led the orchestra out of considerable debt while also increasing attendance, subscriptions, and the orchestra’s endowment. He also was part of the programming team when the orchestra switched to a model of rotating artistic partners, rather than one one music director who oversees everything.

“Bruce really oversaw that vision, got everyone on board, and got the community excited about it,” Kim said. “And we’ve been using that model ever since.” According to Kim, Coppock had a passion for new music and composers. “He was very forward-thinking. I think he felt like the SPCO needed to have a very distinctive repertoire,” Kim said.

Coppock stepped down from his position after being diagnosed with cancer of the bile duct, but returned from 2013 to 2016 as the orchestra came back from a lockout. It was in this second period that the SPCO joined the Arts Partnership in collaboration with The Ordway, The Schubert Club, and The Minnesota Opera, together raising $83.8 million to create a state-of-the-art concert hall where the SPCO now performs.

Bruce Coppock (Ann Marsden)

Coppock worked with the SPCO musicians putting together the best possible program for the Ordway Concert’s Hall opening, and shortly after that was involved with a recording of Franz Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” with artistic partner violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja before touring the work to Berkeley. The orchestra won a Grammy for best chamber music/small ensemble for the album in 2018. “That was just a very special time that I think about often,” Kim said. “I learned so much.”

Coppock went to high school in Monkton, Md., where he was involved with music and theater projects, according to his classmates who mourned his memory on Facebook. One classmate, Terri Zook Johnson, posted, “His love and understanding of music was infectious and inspirational to me.”

Early in his career, Coppock founded the Boston Chamber Music Society, and played frequently for the Boston symphony as a freelance cellist. He directed the chamber music and orchestral studies programs of the New England Conservatory of Music, where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in cello. Then an injury to his hand in 1989 jump-started a shift in his career toward arts management.

Coppock was executive director of the St. Louis Symphony from 1992 to 1997. There, he was instrumental in expanding community engagement and oversaw a merger of the symphony with the community school. He’d go on to become the deputy director of Carnegie Hall from 1997 to 1998, and then in 1998-99, he was the founding director of the League of American Orchestras’ Orchestra Leadership Academy, where he taught a course called “Essentials of orchestra management,” and mentored many people who were transitioning to arts management.

Other positions in his career included roles with the Cleveland Orchestra in Miami, and the University of Minnesota, where he spent a few years coaching.

Throughout his career, he has served on numerous boards, including the Harlem Boys Choir, the Interlochen Center for the Arts, and the Curtis Institute of Music Board of Overseers, and served on task forces and consulted across the country. He was considered a national leader in the field of classical music orchestra management.

In his remarks on SPCO’s website, Jon Limbacher, managing director and president, wrote that Coppock’s “greatest and most enduring contribution” to the orchestra was “instilling in our culture a strong willingness to challenge the orthodoxy of the orchestra field, and a strong bias for innovation.” Limbacher went on to write that Coppock’s “modus operandi” was simply “be bold and be not afraid.”

Coppock is survived by his wife, Lucia P. May, four children and five grandchildren.

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