Bruce Coppock and Principal Cellist Julie Albers examine a cello part before the SPCO’s first rehearsal in the newly-constructed Ordway Concert Hall in 2015. Coppock was a professional cellist before his career in orchestra management. (Photo by Chelsea Tischler)
By Kyu-Young Kim, Artistic Director and Principal Violin
Today, we lost a musical giant: cellist and orchestra executive Bruce Coppock. Bruce was CEO of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from 1999 to 2008, and then again from 2013 to 2016. His impact on the SPCO as a visionary and fearless leader is undeniable. It is no exaggeration to say that no single person had a greater role in the SPCO’s artistic trajectory over the last 20 years than Bruce Coppock. His fervent belief that the SPCO’s ultimate success as a chamber orchestra was dependent on the SPCO musicians themselves rather than a single conductor led to a complete transformation of the ensemble. Without the force of his intellect, musical knowledge and expertise, managerial acumen, and innate leadership skills, this kind of transformation could have led to a steep decline in artistic quality and distinctiveness. Instead, the SPCO today is playing at its highest level ever and its artistic profile as a musician-led chamber orchestra with a distinctive roster of artistic partners is firmly established.
I’ve never met anyone with a greater passion for music and a more insatiable curiosity. Bruce held everyone to the absolute highest standard, including himself. He led with the force of his personality and his ability to inspire the people around him with his vision and creativity. He was also an incredibly warm and supportive mentor to many musicians who made a transition to arts management, having made that difficult transition himself after a devastating hand injury in 1989. To give a brief account of his accomplishments in arts management, he was named Executive Director of the Saint Louis Symphony within three years of that injury, and at various points in his career held senior executive positions at Carnegie Hall, the League of American Orchestras, and the Cleveland Orchestra.
In his final years, he devoted himself to teaching and coaching chamber music with the same passion and fervor that he led orchestras as a CEO. He especially loved coaching high school age musicians in the great chamber music literature, and he established a wonderful program called ChamberMusicLab at the Rivers School Conservatory outside Boston. He also practiced cello for hours a day and returned to performing chamber music in recent years. He even performed the first two Bach cello suites two months ago, in the thick of his fight with cancer.
Bruce was particularly proud of his ability to come back to playing the cello after what could have been a career ending injury to his left hand. When he asked the hand surgeon if the physical therapy would enable him to play the cello again, his reply was, “I can’t tell you the answer to that, but I can tell you that if you don’t put in the work, you’ll never play again.” Bruce never shied away from putting in the work. He fought cancer with the same zeal and discipline. He defied all the odds back in 2006 when he was first diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and a very aggressive form of cancer., living a very rich 16 years, full of life and creativity and music, and with his beloved wife, Lucia May, at his side every step of the way. They were an incredible pair and their love for each other was always so evident and so inspiring to all of us who know them. His eyes would always light up when he would talk about their shared passion for teaching music and the wonderful nurturing community they created for so many talented young musicians.
I owe Bruce a huge debt of gratitude and I can’t believe he’s gone. I never could have taken on my administrative role at the SPCO without Bruce’s guidance and mentorship, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of something that Bruce taught me about artistic planning and artistic vision. In my first year in the dual role, I expressed my nervousness about planning a season, and with his typical confidence, Bruce said, “Don’t worry. The first year, we’ll do it together. It’ll be 50/50. Then the next year, you’ll do most of it, and after that, you’ll be on you own.” I think he actually underestimated his role in planning those first two seasons, but then he did step back and he retired after an all two brief two and a half years back as CEO.
When Bruce came back, he wanted to get the SPCO back on its feet after a devastating lockout during the 2012-2013 season. He wanted to restore the community’s faith in the artistic integrity of the SPCO. He did so much more than that. Just to give you a sense of what he accomplished during his 2½ years back. We opened our new hall at the Ordway in 2015. We named five new artistic partners: Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Jeremy Denk, Pekka Kuusisto, Martin Fröst and Jonathan Cohen. The SPCO won a Grammy in 2018 for its recording of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden with PatKop. Bruce’s artistic vision is all over that recording. We recorded it in March 2015 at the Ordway Concert Hall, the same month that we opened the hall that Bruce was instrumental in building. If you want to hear an example of Bruce’s legacy, take a listen to the 2nd movement of Death and the Maiden.
Bruce’s wife Lucia told me that he was so proud of that performance and the tears would just be streaming down his face by the end of that movement.
RIP Bruce Coppock 1951-2022
— Kyu-Young Kim, Artistic Director and Principal Violin