Illness forces SPCO president to retire

  • Article by: CLAUDE PECK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 1, 2008 - 12:02 PM

Bruce Coppock said his proudest moment was "the extraordinary growth in performance quality of the orchestra."Bruce Coppock, president and managing director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for nine years, said that he will retire to deal with a rare form of cancer.

Bruce Coppock

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Bruce Coppock, president and managing director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for nine years, announced Tuesday that he will retire to devote himself to dealing with cancer that was first diagnosed in 2006.

When Coppock told the chamber orchestra's board on Tuesday of his intention to leave, "there was not a dry eye in the room," said veteran SPCO violinist Tom Kornacker.

Coppock, 57, will go on medical leave July 1. Kornacker will join a committee of board members, musicians and staff to search for a new director.

Coppock has a rare form of cancer of the bile duct.

"Following the initial diagnosis, subsequent surgery and treatment, I was determined to keep up my full-time work as long as the cancer remained under control," he said in a statement.

"The recent indication that the disease has taken a new direction tells me that now is the time for me to step down, and to devote all of my energies to my family."

"We have all known since the beginning that Bruce has been battling with cancer," Kornacker said. "All of a sudden it returns. It's just shocking. People were hoping that this day wouldn't come."

Coppock has by all accounts been a forceful and effective leader of the orchestra, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in the coming season.

"He dared to dream, but also executed successfully," said Erwin Kelen, SPCO board chairman.

On the financial side, the SPCO has seen audiences grow by 50 percent in the past decade, and increased its endowment to $40 million. After weathering a financial crisis in 2000 that forced a 20 percent budget reduction and pay cuts to musicians and staff, it has rebounded. It has an annual budget of $12 million.

Coppock is very highly regarded on the national scene, said Jesse Rosen, managing director of the League of American Orchestras, "because he was always figuring out the next important thing that orchestras have to do."

Coppock, who joined the SPCO in 1999, has been the group's longest-serving managing director.

Viewed from the outside, his major accomplishment was the change in artistic leadership from a single music director to a diverse group of artistic partners, accompanied by a larger decisionmaking role for the musicians themselves.

Among the big-name artistic partners who have signed on to multiyear contracts with the SPCO are violinist Joshua Bell, pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, soprano Dawn Upshaw, and conductors Roberto Abbado and Edo de Waart.

Asked Tuesday about his proudest accomplishment, Coppock named artistic excellence. "The biggest deal to me has been the extraordinary growth in performance quality of the orchestra," he said.

Coppock was a professional cellist and teacher in Boston and co-founded the Boston Chamber Music Society.

He lives in Mendota Heights with his wife, violinist and music teacher Lucia May. Between them, the couple has four grown children. Coppock said that given all the traveling he has done for work, he looks forward to being at home, listening to music and reading.

"There will be travels of the mind and spirit," he said, "not travels of the body."

Claude Peck • 612-673-7977

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