Bruce Coppock will return as president and CEO of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

A search committee unanimously recommended Coppock for the position, which has been vacant since Sarah Lutman resigned in 2012.

Board chairman Dobson West has been serving in the interim — a period that included a 191-day lockout of musicians in a labor dispute that ended April 29.

"This came to the fore in the last couple of weeks, and I got calls from people in the organization and from friends around the country who said I should consider doing this," Coppock said Tuesday afternoon.

West called Coppock "the right person to lead us forward at this important juncture."

Coppock, a cellist, led the SPCO from 1999 to 2008, when he retired to undergo treatment for a rare cancer diagnosed two years earlier. He has been in remission since 2009. From 2011 to 2012, he was general manager of the Cleveland Orchestra's Miami residency.

Coppock's signature achievements with the SPCO involved decentralizing leadership and expanding access through lower ticket prices and more concerts in neighborhood venues. The position of musical director was replaced by a group of artistic partners. Attendance hit record highs during his tenure.

He returns to a different situation, with the SPCO suffering a $900,000 deficit last year and the ensemble picking up the pieces of the lockout, including lower pay and a smaller number of full-time musicians.

"I'm an optimist," Coppock said. "I always try to see where the possibilities are and figure out how to remove obstacles."

On the positive side, he said the prospect of a new 1,100-seat hall for the SPCO at Ordway Center should be a "huge civic accomplishment."

In terms of challenges, he said the organization needs to build its endowment and annual fund and get more people into the concert hall.

Concertmaster Steven Copes, associate concertmaster Ruggero Allifranchini and principal bassoonist Chuck Ullery served on the search committee that recommended Coppock's candidacy. They spoke highly of Coppock, calling him a "natural choice" because of his ability to "articulate an artistic vision."

The board of directors is expected to approve the recommendation at its May 21 meeting, and Coppock, 61, who lives in Mendota Heights with his wife, Lucia May, is expected to begin his tenure in June.